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Arts and Entertainment

'Nightcrawler': Jake Gyllenhaal And His Creepy Eyes Shine In L.A. After Dark

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Nightcrawler, veteran screenwriter Dan Gilroy's directorial debut, is a thrilling, albeit distorted examination of the underbelly of L.A. and the public's thirst for blood and guts on the local TV news.

Much has already been said about Jake Gyllenhaal's masterfully creepy performance in Nightcrawler, and we'll belabor the point even more. Yes, Gyllenhaal is that good as a freelance TV "journalist" Lou Bloom, who bounces from crime scene to crime scene at night doing whatever it takes to get his footage on the local morning news. Gyllenhaal also adds little touches to his character—staring a little too long without blinking to putting his hair up in a samurai-style ponytail before a shoot—that help carry the film when it asks too much of the audience.

Gyllenhaal hooks us from the start, first as another aimless Angeleno looking for an internship, a job, a career, anything in a down economy. But when he stumbles upon a freeway car crash and watches a camera crew descend on the scene, he finds his true calling. The transformation of Bloom from a bumbling newbie with a pawn-shop procured video camera competing against pro-shooters to an 'auteur' of crime scenes is twistedly fun to watch. WIth no moral compass, Bloom has no qualms about things like ethics, endearing him to news director Nina (Rene Russo).

Nina is nearly as screwed up as Bloom. She's an aging beauty who knows that ratings rule the roost in the younger and/or male-dominated TV business. She's not afraid to push the legal limits of decency on the morning news. It's interesting to watch how the power in their relationship shifts. After a little coercion, she fully engages with Bloom (both professionally and personally) in a relationship of simple economics: It all comes down to supply and demand.

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Gilroy has crafted such an intense and memorable psychopath in Bloom, from his obsessive compulsive tendencies to a penchant for using business platitudes (gleaned from the Internet) into daily conversation. Gyllenhaal utters Bloom's rapid-fire thoughts with sycg self-assurance and underplays his maniacal tendencies that the dialogue becomes even more perverse and sickly funny. Because Bloom and Nina are rather richly drawn, some of the supporting characters come off as one-dimensional foils, particularly Bloom's assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) and Nina's editor (Kevin Rahm). The latter two do little else than stand by and watch their bosses cross lines again and again.

Los Angeles at night looks haunting onscreen thanks to the contrast of brighter hues and wide angles employed by director of photography Robert Elswit, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention James Newton Howard's score. Moments in the film are punctuated by synth riffs that reminded us of 80s movies and TV shows, particularly Miami Vice. The music worked well to give off an otherworldly feel to the film, a reminder that Nightcrawler is still an exaggerated satire.

Several local TV journalists have cameos or small roles in the film, including Sharon Tay, Rick Garcia, Pat Harvey and Rick Chambers, adding a authenticity to the world that Bloom for some reason desperately wants to join. But it also begs the larger question: In the age of TMZ, YouTube and Twitter—who even still watches the local news?

Nightcrawler is playing now in theaters everywhere.