Like an emaciated vulture, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom hops from grisly motor vehicle accident to violent suburban home invasion to horrific crime scenes, tearing at the carcasses of human misery for his meal. Instead of razor-sharp talons and beak though, his eviscerating weapons of choice are a video camera and a police scanner. With a skeletal frame that seems to have had any soft exterior sloughed off in the fires of his passion, Bloom is unhinged ambition personified as he captures these nightmarish moments. He’s also a f#$%ing sociopath.

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Writer and first time feature director Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) gives Gyllenhaal the meaty role of a lifetime, and the young actor sinks his teeth into it with relish and gusto. Part pitch black satire, part cautionary parable and part flensing expose on the ethical dangers of the sensation-driven, 24-hour news cycle, Nightcrawler follows Gyllenaal’s Bloom, a socially inept loner who stumbles from criminal scavenger into the career of freelance news reporter, prowling the late night streets of Los Angeles for the next bit of bloody news. Possessed of almost laughable (if they weren’t brought to such creepy life by Gyllenhaal) self-delusions, Bloom is obsessed with the notion of becoming a major player in the late night news game and although his education and experience consists mostly of online self-help courses (which he can quote verbatim) he is armed with a meticulous, almost inhuman disconnect from the carnage around him, allowing him to do anything to see that goal realized.

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As the desperate and arguably immoral network TV producer who sees her flailing career revitalized by the sensationalist and often controversial footage that Bloom feeds her, Rene Russo’s Nina Romina stands as the perfect foil to Bloom. In one scene the pair are almost flirtatious in their repartee as they discuss the positives of Bloom’s latest bit of gory video violence, much to the disgust of the fellow news crew. The pair play off each other as much as they play each other to get what they want, often to the moral and ethical extremes and beyond.

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As twisted and dark as the characters and subject matter becomes though, Gilroy controls it all masterfully. With an assured eye behind the camera and pitch perfect tonal transitions that belies his debuting directing status, Nightcrawler is often as effortlessly entertaining – Bloom’s constant swindling of his dimwitted assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) is side-splitting – as it is white-knuckle gripping and thrilling. Like one of the many car wrecks that Gyllenhaal’s Bloom captures through his lens, you know that we’re witnessing is undoubtedly messed up, but you just cannot look away.

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And most of that is due to Gyllenhaal’s endlessly creepy and mesmerizing performance. On the backs of startling performances in movies like End of Watch, Prisoners and Enemy, the young actor’s turn in Nightcrawler is the current zenith of a recent career renaissance, as he takes a character that is simultaneously both deplorable and pitiable and makes him somebody that… well, you can’t quite root for him, as that would probably mean you’re as bonkers as he is, but you sure as hell cannot wait to see what his next actions are.

And thanks to Gilroy’s Oscar nominated screenplay, this despicable human drama will often keep you guessing as it plays out like those very same light night L.A. highways that Bloom calls home: Dark, twisting and dangerous with the occasional patches of light. It’s a fantastic debut for the director and an engrossing testament to the powerful talent of its lead, and is definitely not to be missed.

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Last Updated: March 5, 2015

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