[Screen It]


(2014) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A private news video journalist pushes moral and legal boundaries as he becomes more obsessed with getting exclusive footage of accident and crime scenes to sell to a local TV station.
Lou Bloom (JAKE GYLLENHAAL is a guy looking for a job in Los Angeles. When he comes across a car accident scene and spots civilian video journalist Joe Loder (BILL PAXTON) getting footage that later ends up on the local news, he knows he can do the same. After stealing an expensive racing bike that he pawns for a video camera and police scanner, Lou sets off to make money selling such footage, and he does so to Nina (RENE RUSSO), the KWLA night shift/early morning news director.

When he sees that Joe is beating him to stories due to having a crew of other video journalists, Lou ends up hiring Rick (RIZ AHMED), a young homeless man who needs the money. Despite Lou mistreating him, they become a good team at getting such footage, and Lou becomes more seasoned in getting what he wants from Nina (both in and out of the newsroom) in exchange for his exclusive material.

But when the video journalists arrive at the scene of a home invasion before the police do, Lou takes his increasingly illegal and amoral behavior to new heights, something that results in Det. Fronteiri (MICHAEL HYATT) becoming increasingly suspicious about what he knows about the crime.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I guess it's just a sign of the ever-changing times, but it's interesting how much more lax society has become regarding what can be displayed and said, both in public and via various forms of entertainment. I'm no prude, but it's surprising what is now shown in what used to be called the "family hour" on TV (at least as compared to when I was growing up - yes, I'm old).

Of course, people said the same thing when bikinis first showed up on beaches, or when the Beatles arrived with "long hair." Yet, you have to wonder what happens when you could no longer push the envelope and there's no further step to go. The Internet is certainly helping tear down certain boundaries, especially when it comes to news stories. While traditional broadcast networks and channels might show some disturbing footage, that's nothing compared to what the online versions of those same media properties show online, let alone standalone sites.

It's only a matter of time before broadcast news follows suit, and that's part of the underlying theme of "Nightcrawler." In it, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a streetwise hustler who quickly becomes proficient at civilian video journalism after seeing another such person (Bill Paxton) in action on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Armed with a police scanner and a somewhat duped assistant (Riz Ahmed), he starts arriving earlier and earlier to accident and crime scenes.

And knowing that the closer and more graphic footage results in higher pay from KWLA news director Nina (Rene Russo), he starts pushing his luck, along with the associated legal and moral boundaries.

For anyone in the biz, some of what transpires might come off as unrealistic or even ludicrous (especially in terms of showing victims -- albeit with blurred out faces -- as well as footage actually shot from the inside of active crime scenes). But even they will likely admit that the nearly two hour long movie is a wild ride, particularly as fueled by Gyllenhaal's edgy, nuanced, and completely mesmerizing performance.

We first meet him as he's selling stolen fencing and manhole covers to a construction manager, but the purchaser, when asked about any job opportunities, says he isn't hiring any criminals. It's then that the protagonist comes across a car accident scene and witnesses Paxton's in action, and the fast to learn Lou Bloom sees his future. He quickly becomes proficient and his continuous evolution of pushing those boundaries is nothing short of fascinating to watch.

He's not a likable character, mind you, but you can't keep your eyes off Gyllenhaal (looking quite gaunt after reportedly losing quite a bit of weight for the role) as his character becomes a master of manipulation. Russo is good as the sort of news director who sees this as a chance to boost her career (but then must deal with the consequences of what she's helped unleash). Ahmed also delivers a strong performance as the homeless man turned assistant who tries to adopt some of his bosses tactics (but likewise must deal with the fallout of doing so).

While it might go on a beat or two too long after a perfect point where it should've concluded, "Nightcrawler" is an undeniably mesmerizing and disturbing ride showing the continued pushing of old boundaries. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 8, 2014 / Posted October 31, 2014

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