Gyllenhaal shows versatility in spooky thriller

by David Dixon, Staff Writer

Jake Gyllenhaal has proven to be an extremely versatile actor who can portray a variety of roles. However, rarely has Gyllenhaal played a character that is morally repulsive.

“Nightcrawler” focuses on the actor as Lou Bloom, an antisocial loner living in Los Angeles. One evening, he sees several cameramen filming a wounded woman rescued from a burning car. After finding out the men are freelancers who send shocking footage to television stations, Lou decides he will become an independent crime reporter.

Upon showing the video that he shot to the head of a struggling local network, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), she puts in on the air. Nina is so impressed with his work that she continues to use his videos of violent incidents in LA.

Dan Gilroy has co-written screenplays for movies such as “The Fall” and “The Bourne Legacy,” but “Nightcrawler” is his directorial debut. His depiction of the City of Angels has similarities to Michael Mann. As with some of Mann’s films, LA can appear dreamlike but also nightmarish.

Viewers should be advised that there are brutal images throughout the story. Instead of being exploitative, Gilroy chooses not to linger too long on the gore. In fact, the most disturbing aspect of “Nightcrawler” tends to be the cold reactions that Lou and Nina have to what is captured on camera.

What keeps the flick from being a downer is a healthy amount of dark humor that Gilroy incorporates in his script. Snappy exchanges in the story examine how horrific material on the news tends to attract large viewership. This timely theme results in laughs that are scarily hilarious.

James Newton Howard’s deceptive original score adds to the sometimes-ironic tone of the film. There are moments when sentimental and uplifting music plays, which is intentionally incongruous given the plot is neither.

The ensemble features first rate work from Russo, Bill Paxton as rival cameraman Joe Loder, and Riz Ahmed who plays Rick, an empathetic assistant working for Lou. However, “Nightcrawler” is Gyllenhaal’s show.

Gyllenhaal lost 30 pounds in preparation for his role, which is an indication of his commitment to play the fascinatingly dishonorable oddball. He never asks for the viewer’s sympathy as he becomes more despicable with each passing scene.

Any flaws with the flick are only small nitpicks, such as a brief sequence with a mirror that feels shoehorned into the narrative. Yet, there is a major issue with the marketing campaign. The television advertisements and theatrical trailer give away crucial information contained in the final 30 minutes, which spoils some of the big surprises of “Nightcrawler.” The best way to appreciate the chutzpah of the conclusion is to avoid as many previews as possible.

Anchored by Gyllenhaal’s strange performance, “Nightcrawler” works equally well as a grizzly thriller and a vicious satire. Gilroy also proves that he is an intelligent and uncompromising storyteller behind the camera.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars