Nightcrawler 

Jake Gyllenhaal roams the streets of Los Angeles in this taut thriller

At times, Nightcrawler is such an effective thriller that squirming in your seat is an involuntary reflex, like flinching at the bleeding leads on the nightly news. Writer-director Dan Gilroy's new film lands several crude, short-armed jabs, and for a while it feels legitimately and bracingly crazy. But its buzz doesn't last long, and once it wears off, all of the important questions it winks at — about photojournalism ethics, what it takes to make it in America, and what exactly is being satirized — are left unanswered.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a down-on-his-luck psychopath drawn into the nocturnal realm of big-city news gathering, where any amateur with a van, scanner, and video camera can shoot bloody, intimate footage of the evening's major murders and executions and sell it to local news stations for a tidy sum a few hours later. The film coolly follows this networking young man — a face in the crowd to die for — as he drives his taxi up and down Sunset Boulevard in search of that sweet smell of success.

click to enlarge Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Bloom fascinates you even though he's little more than a bug-eyed mannequin clad in self-help pull-quotes, motivational buzzwords, and polite platitudes, who says things like "working for myself is more in line with my skills and career goals" with a straight face. He's a non-threatening shadow dweller pleasant enough to fade from memory but distinct enough to be suspicious. The cloistered, self-educated Bloom is a parody of someone who's learned everything from spending day and night online, and occasionally Gyllenhaal hints at a cool, casual contempt for humanity as boundless as the internet itself.

The film takes place in Los Angeles, and Gilroy constructs a glowing, geographically savvy portrait of this great American city at night almost by accident. The bright digital photography here is nothing like the hazy, washed-out security-cam look of Collateral, Michael Mann's L.A. crime flick from a decade ago. Cinematographer Robert Elswit's primary colors are refreshing and sickly-sweet: the shots of video blue Chevron stations and neon signs blinking over the deserted early-morning streets are in some ways the film's most significant cultural contributions.

Rene Russo plays Nina, Bloom's weary television-producer boss, and she scribbles out a cocktail napkin-sized essay on fallen stardom in every scene. There's a funny, tragic encounter when, out of nowhere, a casting couch virtually materializes in front of her while she nurses a watery margarita and listens to her new freelance darling's Rupert Pupkin-like plans for world domination.

Bloom often holds his camera high above his head, as though he were about to bring it down on someone's neck like an executioner's axe: He constantly engages in shooting-as-stabbing, and his and Nina's sexual thrill from a job well done is an important subtext. Gilroy's suspenseful passages are similarly restrained. Yet they wring undreamt-of tension from watching Bloom watch other people, and something as simple and innocuous as a two-shot from an automobile's rear-view mirror develops as much nervous energy as the scary, rollicking car chase that follows.

Speaking of Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal

Nightcrawler
Rated R · 117 min. · 2014
Official Site: nightcrawlerfilm.com
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Producer: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michel Litvak and David Lancaster
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Ann Cusack, Kevin Rahm and Anne McDaniels

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