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If it bleeds, it leads Nightcrawler'

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Film offers bleak look at media's questionable morality

There are few actors in Hollywood who inspire feelings as mixed as those brought forth in me by Jake Gyllenhaal.

There's no questioning the guy's talent. He has brought some phenomenal performances to the screen over the years hell, his 2005 alone ('Brokeback Mountain,' 'Proof,' 'Jarhead') would headline a lot of resumes. But ever since the unfortunate debacle that was 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time' almost five years ago, Gyllenhaal seems to have decided that A-list status isn't for him.

And audiences are the luckier for it. Just in the past couple of years, we've gotten high-concept sci-fi and cop drama and thrillers from Gyllenhaal some dynamic (albeit haphazard) choices.

But with 'Nightcrawler,' we might have gotten his very best performance to date.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a weirdly unstable, possibly sociopathic young man eking out a living stealing wire and selling it for scrap. But his life changes when he stops at the scene of a gruesome accident and encounters a man named Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, 'Edge of Tomorrow'). Joe works as a freelance cameraman colloquially known as a 'nightcrawler' who spends his nights rushing from crime scene to crime scene, accident to accident, trying desperately to get the kind of lurid, graphic footage for which news directors pay top dollar.

And just like that, Lou has found his calling.

He gets his hands on a police scanner and a camcorder and throws his hat into the nightcrawler ring. He soon discovers both an affinity and an aptitude for the job, thanks to the encouragement of local news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo, 'Thor: The Dark World'). Lou rapidly loses himself in his nocturnal world even going so far as to con a young man named Rick (Riz Ahmed, 'Closed Circuit') to join his team.

But it isn't long before Lou finds himself making decisions and crossing lines that bring all sorts of ethical and moral questions into the equation and the answers that Lou comes up with could put him and those around him into very real danger.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy has a number of screenwriting credits to his name, but this is his first time in the director's chair. He acquits himself well, painting a picture of a seedily atmospheric Los Angeles. It's a nocturnal movie and Gilroy seems quite at home in a world where the sun rarely rises. The fact that he's directing his own script likely accentuates the clear synergy between word and image that permeates 'Nightcrawler.'

Still, it's Gyllenhaal's movie and he runs with it. Despite exuding an air of unblinking creepiness, Lou Bloom is still oddly magnetic. That's Gyllenhaal; he finds a way to harness his own not-inconsiderable charisma and lash it to Lou's utter weirdness. It's a performance peppered with intensity. Lou is undeniably broken, but we only see that brokenness in full in a few split-second outbursts. Mostly, his instability is roiling beneath a placid, polite exterior. It's unsettling on a number of levels; a powerful, completely committed performance.

It can be easy to forget Russo's talents this is the first non-Marvel movie in which she has appeared in almost a decade. But that long period of inactivity hasn't dulled her abilities. There's a spark to the film when she turns up; both Nina and Lou are incredibly driven, but they come to that drive from very different directions. That dynamic gives a crackle to their relationship.

Paxton is suitably crass as Joe, though he doesn't get a whole lot to do. And Ahmed's Rick it's difficult to put my finger on just why he didn't quite click for me. All the pieces seemed to be there for a fine performance, yet something about the portrayal or maybe the character was left wanting. It isn't that he's bad; he just didn't quite fit.

'Nightcrawler' definitely works as a condemnation of the 'If it bleeds, it leads' school of local television journalism it certainly pulls no punches in its portrayal of the dark side of that particular attitude. It also makes for a fascinating character study Lou Bloom's brand of empty darkness is compelling as hell to watch unfold onscreen. With the two elements skillfully pulled together as they are, you get an almost shockingly good film.

[5 out of 5]

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