'Nightcrawler' actor Jake Gyllenhaal is great, but the movie's conception is off

Director Dan Gilroy wants to have protagonist Louis (Gyllenhaal), who films accident sites for nightly TV news, epitomize the sick soul of media exploitation, but he also celebrates him as an entrepreneurial go-getter.

Chuck Zlotnick/Open Road Films/AP
'Nightcrawler' stars Jake Gyllenhaal (l.) and Riz Ahmed (r.).

In writer-director Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a sociopath – or is it psychopath? I can never get those two straight – who discovers his groove working as a freelance videographer. These are the guys who, rushing to accident sites, supply the nightly television news with their daily dollop of domestic violence and freeway carnage. In an environment where “if it bleeds, it leads,” they know there’s a huge market for their wares.Gilroy, with the immense contribution of his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, luxuriates in the seamy side of the Los Angeles night world. He’s trying to make an L.A. noir that captures the tabloid garishness of photographers like Weegee. He’s also trying to create, in Louis Bloom, a kind of anti-hero hero – a modern version of Travis Bickle from "Taxi Driver." 

But the lives of these videographer cowboys, high on adrenaline and the quick fix of cash, need a much greater scope than this film provides. By turning the loner Louis into a nutcase – if he blinked at all during the movie, I missed it – the movie becomes a species of horror film. 

Gyllenhaal, alarmingly thinned out, gives a first-rate wacko performance in the Anthony Perkins mode, but it’s at the service of a bum conception. Gilroy wants to have it both ways: He wants Louis, who perpetrates some ghastly escapades, to epitomize the sick soul of media exploitation, but he also celebrates him as an entrepreneurial go-getter who is just giving us hypocrites what we secretly (or not-so-secretly) crave. On balance, Gilroy seems to favor the go-getter. He’s seduced by his creation. If Louis were to watch this movie, he would likely approve. Grade: C+ (Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.)

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