‘Nightcrawler’ gets under your skin

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, October 29, 2014 12:30pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If ever we needed proof that a real go-getter with an upbeat and fully-developed philosophy of life can also be a raging sociopath, Louis Bloom supplies it.

The main character of “Nightcrawler” admits he has been studying a lot on the Internet, and the way Jake Gyllenhaal inhabits the role leaves no doubt that Bloom has spent a great deal of energy learning how to act like normal people. With all that readiness, Bloom hits the ground running when he stumbles into a possible source of income: freelance video journalist.

In this case, that means slinking through the streets of L.A. at night, trying to get to crime scenes and car accidents before the police shut off the area. TV news pays for the grisly footage — if only Bloom and his “intern” (Riz Ahmed, from “Four Lions”) can get there before their rival jackal (Bill Paxton).

This might sound like a grim exercise in media scolding, but it’s something else entirely. “Nightcrawler” is shot through with wicked satire, from easy targets (ethical emptiness of local TV news) to crazy-funny conversations between Bloom and the unfortunate people who happen to cross his path.

Director Dan Gilroy, who co-wrote “The Bourne Legacy” with his better-known brother Tony, has a bead on a certain kind of lowlife character. And thanks to ace cinematographer Robert Elswit and composer James Newton Howard (who contributes a synth-heavy score), the nighttime city becomes almost palpably real.

Even Bloom’s relationship with a desperate news director (Rene Russo) takes on weird coloration. The dialogue between them gets to the heart of Gilroy’s view of how the world works — everything is a negotiation, and death and sex are commodities to be bartered. By the way, nice to see Russo (she’s married to Gilroy) in a meaty role again.

Jake Gyllenhaal looks lean and freaky, as though still weirded out by his part in “Enemy” earlier this year. People have been comparing the “Nightcrawler” role to “Taxi Driver,” probably because of Bloom’s lone-wolf spookiness, but it reminded me more of another Robert De Niro gem: “The King of Comedy,” the story of an obsessive stand-up comic whose rehearsed attempts to replicate human behavior are hilarious and chilling at the same time.

Gyllenhaal works so hard in the role he nearly exhausts you, but it’s hard to deny the overall effect. He’s there to make the audience uncomfortable. What’s really impressive about the movie is how darkly entertaining it is while giving us the heebie-jeebies.

“Nightcrawler” (3 ½ stars)

Jake Gyllenhaal is a sociopathic video journalist who slinks through nighttime L.A. in search of crime scenes and car accidents. Dan Gilroy’s darkly entertaining movie is both media satire and a study of a truly strange modern character — a guy who’s got an upbeat philosophy of life, and is also a real creep.

Rating: R, for violence, language

Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium 14, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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