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Film Review

‘Nightcrawler’

11/5/2014

Toronto Film Festival“Nightcrawler”

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

Rated R

117 minutes

Cinemark 20 showtimes: 3:50, 5:25, 7:05, 8:40, 10:05

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Sociopathy can be a difficult thing to convey through film, mainly because so few people understand what it’s really about. And that is what makes “Nightcrawler” worth your time.

“Nightcrawler” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a young man with a seemingly endless capacity for curiosity and growth but a stilted, stylized way of looking at the world and dealing with people. When the film opens, Bloom is stealing chain-link fencing from around a rail yard and is confronted by a security guard. While they talk, the camera (showing us Bloom’s gaze) pans down to the security guard’s watch. In the next scene, Bloom drives away from the rail yard wearing the same watch, and it’s what transpires in the 60 seconds between the establishing shot and the next scene that sets the tone for Bloom’s character and the entire rest of the film.

After making a couple of unsuccessful attempts at finding steady employment, Bloom happens upon a car wreck and stops to watch the police pull a woman from a burning car. It is there he first encounters Joe Loder, played by Bill Paxton. Loder is a freelance cameraman (colloquially called “Nightcrawlers”) who spends his nights chasing police scanner chatter and selling the filmed results to local news stations. It’s a job that offers few restrictions and the allure of instant gratification. Bloom is hooked.

The rest of the film tracks Bloom’s journey from bumbling first-timer shooting DWIs and petty thefts with a pawn shop camcorder, to the heights of his chosen profession. It is in this journey that Gyllenhaal takes his role and turns it into something special.

This film is Gyllenhaal’s “Taxi Driver.” It is his chance to sink his teeth into a nuanced, complicated role, and he does so with abandon. Movie sociopaths tend to be written in block letters: serial killers, mad men or terrorists. Bloom is none of these. People in the film die because of Bloom’s actions, but Gyllenhaal’s Bloom observes his surroundings with clinical detachment.

This manifests itself in the story through a slow progression. At first, Bloom simply ignores the etiquette inherent in his profession: He pushes his camera into the middle of life-saving operations, stands too close to police and enters people’s homes without permission in order to get the best angle on his shot. But eventually that graduates to manipulating accident scenes to better frame the shot he wants and eventually withholding evidence from police so he can best use it to his professional advantage.

Along the way, he hires a woefully underpaid assistant named Rick (“Four Lions” actor Riz Ahmed) and develops a close working relationship with a news director named Nina (Rene Russo). Both interactions begin superficially friendly, but the parameters change on a dime. In one scene, Bloom praises Rick for his hard work then immediately threatens to fire him for spilling gas on his car. Bloom is a creepy man, but Gyllenhall plays him with just enough detachment to make sure that he never crosses the line into being genuinely sinister.

The film doesn’t explore the relationship between Bloom and Nina nearly as much as it should, and the ending feels a bit amputated, but the absolute brilliance of Gyllenhaal’s performance is something that can’t possibly be overstated. This fall is shaping up to be a huge one for films, and it won’t be surprising if “Nightcrawler” is quickly lost in the shuffle by movie-going audiences. But Gyllenhaal delivers an award-worthy performance, and that alone makes the film worth the price of admission. CV

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