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Nightcrawler review: ‘Chilling icon of a troubling age’

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JAKE GYLLENHAAL is superb as the depraved video journalist who becomes complicit in the very crimes he reports


Director: Dan Gilroy

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

Cert 12A, 102mins

Pray that you never encounter a “nightcrawler”. If you do it almost certainly means you’re having “the worst day of your life” in the words of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the eponymous anti-hero of Nightcrawler and the sickest of a sick bunch of human misery peddlers.

They’re freelance videographers who trawl the streets at night sniffing out crime scenes and crash sites, often arriving before the police themselves, and flog their footage of the dead and dying to local TV news stations. “If it bleeds it leads,” so the mantra goes.

Played with unhinged glee by Gyllenhaal, Bloom is a fascinatingly repulsive oddball whose ascent we witness from scavenger on the fringes of society – selling stolen scrap metal and copper – to purveyor of the finest, bloodiest TV news footage after observing another doing the same at a nighttime crime scene in Los Angeles.

Sallow, unthinking and ferocious he’s like a human jackal who obeys only his own survival instinct. We learn almost nothing about his past but this is a picture all about the present and the kind of society that breeds someone like Bloom and allows him to flourish.

It’s a world where ratings trump ethics, voyeurism trumps compassion and desperation trumps common sense and decency. It’s Bloom’s world – or rather night – and he owns it, savagely and brilliantly feeding off the carcass of a corrupting society.

As such the man himself doesn’t change, although his fortunes do, it’s the people around him that transform as he exploits their weaknesses and vulnerabilities to get ahead, chiefly a hunger for financial reward and job security in an uncertain world.

There’s the penniless youngster, Rick (Riz Ahmed) he hires as his “assistant” and, most memorably, a hard-bitten TV news editor, Nina Romina (Renee Russo), who buys Bloom’s dubious footage to prop up her fading career.

Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s film evolves from darkly comic character study and contemporary satire to gripping crime thriller. Bloom witnesses a home invasion resulting in multiple deaths and becomes complicit in the crime itself.

It put me in mind of The Wolf Of Wall Street, another tale of society indulging an outrageous wacko whose principal quality is to have no shame. Like that film it’s very funny at times. Bloom adopts corporate jargon gleaned from online business seminars and frequently sounds absurd – which does nothing to prevent people from taking him seriously. Quite the opposite.

Shot as a neon-soaked disturbia Los Angeles is a character in itself – a twilight zone as eerily disembodied as Bloom himself – but it’s Bloom, superbly inhabited by Gyllenhaal, who stays with you: a chilling icon of a troubling age.


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