As Lou Bloom, a freelance TV news cameraman with a nose for graphic tragedy, Jake Gyllenhaal creeped me out big-time. I mean that as high praise. Gyllenhaal, in a poisonously potent performance, twitches with morbid excitement. Bloom will crawl into any L.A. rat hole or car wreck to produce video or dig out a photo he can sell to a TV news director (Rene Russo, tart-tongued and terrific), just to momentarily sate the public’s appetite for gory digital sensation.
If I’m making Nightcrawler sound like a hectoring broadside against a society that gets the exploitative news it deserves, maybe that’s because it often is. Luckily, the film’s writer and first-time director, Dan Gilroy, is hunting bigger game than cloning Network. Bloom is more akin to the sociopaths in Taxi Driver and Peeping Tom. He fancies himself an artist, arranging the wounded and the dead to best catch the light and hold the frame he composes with such care and scant regard for pesky morality or professional ethics. When you can’t find an accident or a murder, why not create it yourself?
Nightcrawler curves and hisses its way into your head with demonic skill. When the laughs come, they stick in your throat. This is a deliciously twisted piece of work. And Gyllenhaal, coiled and ready to spring, is scarily brilliant. He truly is a monster for our time.