By Chaz Lipp 

Nightcrawler offers a darkly comic blast of suspenseful drama from debut director Dan Gilroy (a screenwriter whose previous credits include The Bourne Legacy and Freejack). Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational as the sociopathic insomniac Louis Bloom, a petty thief who begins video-recording nighttime accidents and crime scenes to sell to a Los Angeles TV news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Gilroy, who also penned the screenplay, keeps the live-wire intensity crackling for the full two hours.

Once Louis decides that he’s found his niche, he’s relentless in his drive to be the first videographer at every crime scene—especially if he can get there even before the cops do. With his police scanner continually running and a dimwit assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), riding beside him for $30 per night, Louis isn’t above entering private residences without permission or tampering with bodies that have crashed through windshields. Provided it gets him the shot he needs to maximize his cash payout, any risk is worth it.

Director Gilroy establishes a realistic tone, even as he sends up the vulture-like mentality of broadcast news pros like Nina. Russo is terrific as the aging, struggling overnight news director. That she toils at the lowest-rated station in L.A. is no accident. Louis has done his homework and knows she’ll do almost anything (even agree to a personal relationship with Louis) in order to secure his graphic, intrusive, and (most importantly) exclusive video footage. Nina’s track record reveals her inability to maintain a position for longer than two years at a given station, something Louis is quick to remind her of when she begins balking at his advances. But if there’s a significant problem with Nightcrawler, it’s the question of credibility as Louis’ methods grow increasingly wilder.

Where exactly does the problem lie? The bolder and more amoral Louis becomes as a videographer, the more incriminating evidence mounts against him. Once they tentatively being a case against Louis, LAPD should be able to put the pieces together (I’m tiptoeing in order to avoid spoilers). Though Gilroy doesn’t completely ignore this aspect, the believability of his storytelling approach leaves something to be desired. A subplot involving rival “nightcrawler” Joe (Bill Paxton, sadly underutilized) is left unresolved and becomes indicative of the writer-director’s lack of follow-through where the finer plot intricacies are concerned.

Still, Nightcrawler bristles with tight action, finely-tuned performances, and a generally relentless atmosphere of paranoia. As a character study, there’s little doubt that Louis Bloom is a full-on sociopath without a sympathetic instinct in his one-track, self-centered mind. It’s no small feat then that Gyllenhaal, gaunt and underweight, makes him almost admirable at first. How many of us only wish we had Louis’ professional drive and sense of purpose? We marvel at his audacity, but are eventually sickened by his unethical, ruthless practices. Whatever its relatively minor flaws may be, a movie this grippingly entertaining shouldn’t be missed.

Images: Open Road Films

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