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The Mass Media

Gyllenhaal turns in best performance to date in new thriller

Jake Gyllenhaal in new movie ‘Nightcrawler’

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in “Nightcrawler,” a thriller about competitive crime journalism set on the streets of Los Angeles after dark. Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the extreme character, Louis “Lou” Bloom, is convincing as he looks to find success in a media environment, where “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Bloom is a silver-tongued man whose ambition and autodidactism has rendered him psychopathic. He pursues TV journalism after watching a crew pull up to a burning car wreck and film the wounded woman. Irreverence is an asset in this profession.

Bloom buys a used camcorder and police scanner and, by capitalizing on his skill set, is soon able to hire the affable and bumbling assistant, Rick, played by British rapper, Riz Ahmed.

The pair race across the city, following dispatch codes for shootings, house fires, and vicious crimes. They sell the footage to blood-thirsty news director Nina, played by Renee Russo, and compete with fellow nightcrawler Joe Loder, played by Bill Paxton.
Gyllenhaal channels an obsessive articulation in his role, one he lost 20 pounds to play. The character brought to life by a lesser actor might have come across as implausible.

There is less character change present in Bloom than there is a progression of the audience becoming more aware of what he was capable of all along. Sometimes his innocence is likable, and his industriousness admirable, but as whole, Bloom may be too unsympathetic to even be an anti-hero. In this regard, “Nightcrawler” is a refreshing departure from the typical Hollywood formula. Does “Nightcrawler” have a protagonist?

Regardless, the movie is clearly representational of something bigger than itself. It is a commentary on the news media industry running violence-heavy and sensationalistic infotainment over straighter and more civically beneficial stories, and all to turn higher ratings. The public contributes to this toxic momentum, because its attention keeps stations afloat. Very rarely does “Nightcrawler’s” commentary beat the audience over the head, and is instead accomplished tastefully.

The film is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who also wrote the script. The dialogue is sharp. Bloom’s monologues, where he earnestly recites from his encyclopedic knowledge, sounds like the mechanical regurgitation of online class reading material. Gilroy crafts a thriller that gets the heart pumping not only over the high speed chases, but also from the shear cringe-factor of some of its main character’s actions.
The film is visually moody, weakly lit with street and emergency lights. There are art house touches like Bloom’s repetitive watering of his house plant, or a sustained shot of a green inflatable tube man writhing in the wind next to a used car lot.

Flaws in this movie are hard to find and those that can be are low impact. As with any extreme fringe character, we can wonder what Bloom’s past is, especially given that he is probably in his late-twenties at the time of the film.

There is a lot of backstory that we do not recieve. Bloom could also have a more defined foil, a journalist that more actively champions civic responsibility. Knowing what is wrong is just as important as knowing what is right.

Yet, there is something to be said about trimness, and when everything is over, the story is less about the story than it is about its message, an unfortunate reality that extends beyond the film: “If it bleeds it leads.”