Movie review: Gyllenhaal makes creepy "Nightcrawler" unforgettable

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Thrillers like "Nightcrawler" don't come around often enough. It feels fresh and edgy and like a throwback, all at the same time.

It's also anchored by a transformative and endlessly creepy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, who joins Michael Keaton in the list of actors who will redefine their careers this week.

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a go-getter who hasn't had much luck in the getting part. When we meet him, he's in the not-so-lucrative business of stealing and reselling scrap metal, but his knack for negotiation points to a higher calling.

He finds that calling in a combination of sleazy TV journalism and ambulance chasing. Crime-obsessed local news stations in Los Angeles vying for footage from the scene create a market that Lou enters.

One station's news director (Rene Russo) lets Lou know where the big money is: anything along the narrative of urban crime creeping into suburbia. "Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat slit."

Writer-director Dan Gilroy sets a noir-y tone, but one with a strangely '80s vibe. My friend described "Nightcrawler" as "'Repo Man' if it were directed by Michael Mann." A more recent comparison would be the also-stellar "Drive."

The not-so-subtle critique of the fear-mongering of local TV newscasts (seriously, do yourself a favor and don't watch them) is a great backdrop for Gyllenhaal's Bloom, who will go down as one of the creepiest characters of the last decade. You see some influence of other iconic characters - Norman Bates, Verbal Kint, Gordon Gekko - but Bloom becomes his own icon.

Gyllenhaal gives Bloom the sort of calculated positivity of a man on a job interview. He smiles his way through as he methodically manipulates everyone around him. (Someone is going to compare this character to Amy in "Gone Girl," but I hated "Gone Girl," so it won't be me.)

Gilroy also wrote the film, and he maintains a perfect pace that he punctuates with one of the most tense extended scenes I've seen since, well, the opening of "Drive."

It's rare for a movie with such an unlikable character to be so damn entertaining, but "Nightcrawler" is a rare film.


Opens Friday

4 stars out of 4