Nightcrawler, dir/wr. Dan Gilroy, st. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Forget Will McAvoy's mission to civilise as currently seen on Aaron Sorkin's dream of media utopia The Newsroom, writer/director Dan Gilroy's film is rooted firmly in the gutter of network news, where amoral scavengers sell disturbingly intrusive footage of crime and human tragedy to salivating news stations for cash incentives. The plot is in fact eerily reminiscent of a current Newsroom storyline in which the network's new CEO insists on giving the power of investigative journalism back into the hands of anyone with a smartphone and Twitter handle. Lou Bloom, played with a an alarming, unhinged intensity by a gaunt and wide-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal, bears all the hallmarks of a sociopath hiding in plain sight. Erudite and self-educated via the net, we first see Bloom trying to make ends meet stealing construction site wares and selling it on to a scrap metal merchant, unceremoniously bludgeoning a patrolling security guard in the process. One night, on seeing a freelance film crew screech up to the site of a traffic accident and begin the process of documenting the unfolding drama, Bloom gets inspired. There seems, on the face of it at least, nothing more in his eyes than naked ambition at this point, an admirable spirit of entrepreneurship even. A desire to rise above, to make something of himself, to have a name. Bloom's lack of concern at the sensationalist feeding-frenzy he's becoming part of is one thing, it's when he tuns up at a crime scene and proceeds to tape money shots instead of helping the young family shot down within that alarm bells really start to sound. And like all the best cinematic psychopaths, there's rarely any demonstrative violence on display, only the underlying threat within a softly-spoken and precisely-constructed sentence - the kind of quiet, subversive, endearing intellect so keenly observed by Gyllenhaal's Robert Graysmith in David Fincher's Zodiac, here cleverly inverted and chillingly magnified. Gilroy also has great fun in charting the cyclical through-line of manipulation; Bloom's intern, a guileless drifter named Rick (an extraordinary Ahmed) is systematically coerced by Bloom, who in turn is co-opted and encouraged by Rene Russo's monstrous news director Nina, who has no qualms in selling us, the public, tales intended to divide and panic, and all the while Gilroy sells this murky tail as triumph over adversity, an almost high-spirited yarn of rags to riches, complemented by an electro-Martinez-like score from James Newton Howard that mischievously and deceitfully italicises for us when our hearts should soar. The screenplay alas creaks and groans through the last reel and sadly much of the snap-tight menace is lost in what feels like a concession to satire, especially the predictable near-hokey ending, but Nightcrawler, if nothing else succeeds on an exceptional performance by Gyllenhaal, an assured and hypnotic portrayal of everyman lunacy.