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Jake Gyllenhaal in NIGHTCRAWLER

Lou Bloom is a singular character that originated from the mind of writer Dan Gilroy. This character who is – according to an interview I read – inspired in part by legendary photographer Weegee, and also by nocturnal videographers who shoot and sell footage of the victims of crimes and violence to local news networks in America is simultaneously scary and capable of drawing audience sympathy.

The power of Nightcrawler is down to the work of the writer (and debut director), the actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and cinematographer Robert Elswit who sets this powerhouse performance against a not-often-seen LA. Mr. Elswit uses the cityscape to frame and parenthesise Mr. Gyllenhaal’s performance.

And what a performance it is.

He looks so lean and sallow it would be natural to worry about the actor’s health. He looks so wide-eyed and driven one can’t help wondering how the character keeps going: are there pills involved, or needles? And what sort of desperation turns a man who is already a thief into a nocturnal footage hound who can only see the next step in his march towards certain personally-set career goals?

We are not really given much backstory and that’s okay.

Instead, we are placed in the car alongside a hapless Rick (Riz Ahmed) and driven from crime scene, to the stage of an accident, to the next crime scene, as dictated by the disemobied voices squawking over the police scanner installed in Lou’s car. We see how Lou acquires footage that makes him a valuable resource for Nina Romina (Rene Russo) his contact at the network. We see Lou take control of his relationship with the capable-looking Nina in much the same way that he commandeers the life of Rick, a homeless young man. We see Lou alone in his apartment. And even though we are seeing it all, we aren’t allowed to breach the façade of that face, greasy hair, and physical carriage. Therein lies the power of Lou. And the madness. He spouts management industry gobbledygook with such confidence it might be tempting to think he wrote it. He pursues his business goals with a single-mindedness that is intimidating. Call him psychopath, or sociopath, or whatever else makes you comfortable but it is very clear from frame one that Lou Bloom is on some path, only he is marching to a drummer no one else can hear.

Nightcrawler is a character study that refuses to beat us over the head with anything other than the images the eyes can see and the ears can hear. There is no explanation, there is no unnecessary lecturing, and though Rick provides a voice of human reason he doesn’t do so in a preachy manner. So full marks to Mr. Gilroy’s brother John for cutting this narrative in a manner that never detracts from the story. I detected just one false note in this brilliantly acted, directed, written, and filmed movie and it is a moment between Nina and Lou in the edit bay where they have just reviewed a piece of footage he’s brought in. Ms. Russo’s heavy breathing reaction is a bit much, and slightly out of character, but I will take that single bum note every day of the week over some movies I have suffered through in search of some — any — redeeming quality.

Final Analysis: This is the type of movie where you can’t help thinking, “this isn’t going to end well.” Even in that respect Mr. Gilroy’s creation surprised me. Pleasantly.

My Advice: For whatever it is worth this movie has jumped to the top of the list of all the movies I’ve seen this year. I cannot recommend it heartily enough. Go and watch this when it opens in a theatre near you.