Gyllenhaal and Gilroy Get Gloriously Creepy in "Nightcrawler"

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in Nightcrawler, opening 10/31/14

Dan Gilroy has always been a solid screenwriter, He wrote one my favorite early 90s sci-fi movies, the under-appreciated “Freejack,” which starred Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins and Gilroy’s wife, the beautiful and talented Rene Russo. He followed that up with “Chasers”, a silly comedy featuring Baywatch beauty Erika Eleniak, Tom Berenger, and Crispin “George McFly” Glover. More recently he wrote “Real Steel,” the robot boxing movie with Hugh Jackman and “The Bourne Legacy” starring Jeremy Renner. Most of his films have done pretty well, and with his most recent effort, “Nightcrawler,” he finally gets to sit in the director’s chair. With one of the most versatile lead actors in the business and a couple of always-reliable supporting actors, and a juicy story to tell, Gilroy’s first directorial effort is not only a hit, it could get some Oscar nominations.

“Nightcrawler” is the story of the seedy underbelly of local news. Newsrooms across the country often employee freelance cameramen who patrol their cities at night, camera at the ready, police tuner picking up codes and locations, all in effort to get the scoop first. There’s a head-on collision with multiple fatalities on the highway? There’s a double homicide in an affluent neighborhood? There’s a business being looted in a race riot? The nightcrawlers will be there, in some cases before the cops. They’ll get some footage “you won’t see anywhere else” (probably because once the police show up they’ll keep the camera crews a good 100 feet back, minimum), maybe conduct a quick witness interview or two, and post their video on an FTP site for the local news outlets to buy at a fraction of what it would cost them to shoot the same thing with fulltime employees. Sounds a little morally bankrupt, doesn’t it? It certainly is in the case of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the true greats of this era), who goes above and beyond the call of decency to get the closest close-up as they pull a body out of a wreck. He’s a true creeper, a sociopath bordering on psychopath. He’s also exhilarating to watch as this freaky character study unfolds.

Jake Gyllenhaal is that rare actor who is perfectly capable of commanding your attention when there is nobody else in the whole film. If they were casting Tom Hank’s famous role in “Cast Away” right now I can’t imagine anyone better suited for the part. His expressive face often conveys more about his character’s inner thoughts than his spoken dialogue, which is quite believable with Jake’s detached, matter-of-fact delivery. But he’s not talking to a volleyball here--he’s surrounded with very good co-stars, including the reliable Bill Paxton as a veteran nightcrawler rival, the still gorgeous and always good Rene Russo as Nina, the desperate news director for the lowest rated station in LA (to heck with nepotism, if I was married to Rene Russo she’d be in all my movies too!), and Riz Ahmed, a British actor in his early 30s who is simply outstanding as Rick, the earnest and somewhat naive nightcrawler-in-training. Gyllenhaal cranks up the weird right from the start, I mean like Crispin Glover-on-Letterman weird, but with a calculated undertone that says, “I also know exactly what I’m doing, and that scares you more than you want to admit.” He makes Louis Bloom walk the razor’s edge of morality and monstrosity, and even when you sometimes find him utterly repulsive, you can’t bring yourself look away. That’s the mark of a gifted actor, and a good director with a strong script.

If I can quibble about anything, I found myself wishing that Gilroy had turned the bizarre factor all the way up. I was fascinated with Louis Bloom, and yet I thought he could have gone even further off the rails. I wanted to see him utterly out of control in the pursuit of his goals: to one day own his own news outlet, and to be physically involved on a personal level with his enabling benefactor Nina. I also sort of disagreed with the ending, but hey, it's not my tale to tell. That’s just me, hoping to see Hollywood take more risks, but perhaps it’s wiser for a first-time director to merely push the envelope rather than charge straight through it. Hopefully the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will take a risk and give this gem some well-deserved consideration. Gyllenhaal’s only nomination that I’m aware of was a Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Brokeback Mountain.” I still marvel at his performance in “Donnie Darko.” He’s been a consistent high performer and has consistently been underappreciated at awards time. I certainly wouldn’t object to Dan Gilroy getting nominated for his writing or direction, and Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed could both warrant inclusion on a list prefaced with the words: “And the nominees are...”

“Nightcrawler” may make you a little uncomfortable at times, but it’s engrossing and one of the best-paced character studies I’ve seen in years. You’ll never watch your local morning news the same way again.

5.0 / 5.0