Nightcrawler Review: Jake Gyllenhaal is “Stunning” in Evocative New Drama

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the new movie Nightcrawler Courtesy of Chuck Zlotnick/Open Road Films

In theaters Friday, Oct. 31. 

3 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)

Us Weekly Film Critic and Deputy Editor Mara Reinstein filed the below dispatch from the Toronto International Film Festival. 

We’ve seen it a dozen times. An actor drastically changes his appearance for a role — and, often, the extreme diet-and-workout anecdotes become more interesting than the final product. Jake Gyllenhaal, for example, added serious bulk for 2010’s critical and commercial flop Prince of Persia. All those bicep curls… all for naught.

For his latest film, the wildly evocative drama Nightcrawler — which premiered September 5 at the Toronto International Film Festival — the actor lost 30 pounds, stayed out of the sun and grew out his hair. The physical transformation is stunning. More important, so is his performance. 

Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is your basic fast-talking twerp. Gaunt with pale skin, stringy hair and bloodshot eyes, he's the kind of guy who obviously spent his formative years scouring the computer in his bedroom. Now living by himself in Los Angeles, he makes a modest living by profiting off anything he can get his hands on (even scrap metal). But he’s deceivingly smart and ambitious. And his career path quickly changes one night after he spots a freelance cameraman filming a fatal car accident — then selling it to a TV station for big money. Lou wants a piece of the action too. Now. 

Armed with just a camcorder, a police scanner and an assistant, Lou becomes the most terrifying — and successful — news paparazzo this side of Sunset Blvd. And what a fast-paced thrill it is to ride with him. First he races to crime scenes and lenses the most in-your-face footage. (As a rival snapper tells him, "If it bleeds, it leads."). Then he turns it all over to his self-appointed mentor Nina (Rene Russo), the hard-nosed news director of a ratings-starved local network. The grislier the footage, the more checks Nina stuffs into Lou's sweaty hand. A guilty conscience? Please. Both characters just want to climb up the power ladder. Immune to the macabre deaths around him, Lou catalogues his greatest hits with nonchalance. "Toddler stabbed." "Savage Dog Attack." "Horror House."    

Lou doesn't stop at red lights, and neither does Dan Gilroy's first directing effort. The film careens with twisted (and darkly humorous) developments, notably when Lou propositions Nina in a grimy Mexican restaurant. So compelling is Gyllenhaal here, he easily manages to persuade a seasoned woman too wise-to-know-better that he has the upper hand in negotiations. 

Lou's nightcrawling adventures come to a head when he brazenly films a homicide and its victims. Sensing a financial windfall, he gives the most salacious footage to Nina and withholds damning evidence from the police. What results is a jaw-dropping sequence that would be appalling if it weren’t so gleefully entertaining. After all, who hasn’t turned on the 11 o’clock news and gawked at the bloody, pixilated images on screen? Or even pressed record on a Smartphone to capture an illicit moment?

This film proves there's a Lou Bloom lurking inside most of us. He's just the one willing to cross the yellow police tape. And as the shadowy sleazebag antihero, Gyllenhaal deserves to bask in the limelight.

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