For a review of “Nightcrawler,”
The axiom animating television news —“If it bleeds, it leads” — often leaves you wondering just who gets stained in the process.
Particularly in the wake of frenzied, exhaustive coverage of Ebola, school shootings and spasms of smalltown violence, are viewers implicit in the thirst for ever gorier news stories, or should those providing the in f o r mat io n ex h i b i t restraint, rather than a hunger for ratings?
With his timely new film “Nightcrawler,” writer-director Dan Gilroy (“The Bourne Legacy,” “Real Steel”) entertains such queries, following Louis Bloom into the darkest shadows of nocturnal Los Angeles, while balancing satire and grim horror in regards to the dirty business of creating must-see TV.
Bloom, as played by Jake Gyllenhaal, seems a highfunctioning sociopath as the film begins, struggling to find a job into which he can pour his overwhelming focus and determination.
After happening upon a dramatic, fiery car accident on the highway, and crossing paths with run-and-gun videographer Joe Loder (Bill Paxton making the most of a supporting role), Bloom becomes fixated on documenting the mayhem unfolding every night across Los Angeles.
His early attempts at capturing fires, car crashes and shootings are played for laughs, but it’s not long before the chuckles begin to stick in the throat.
Bloom, working alongside hesitant collaborator Rick (a terrific Riz Ahmed), plunges deeper into the world of freelance crime journalism and begins to play fast and loose with the law.
Bloom is egged on by KWLA news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo in a superb turn), a ruthless, ratings-driven veteran eager for all the gruesome footage Bloom can bring her.
Their increasingly complicated relationship becomes a gripping secondary story to Bloom’s own long journey into night, as savvy about newsroom dynamics as it is leveraging sex for power.
For all its biting commentary about the high cost of sensationalizing the news, “Nightcrawler” serves a phenomenal showcase for Gyllenhaal, who is never less than riveting as Bloom. Afull package of tics, tightly coiled tension and breathless patter, this self-taught entrepreneur stops at nothing, evoking a Travis Bickle for the TMZ age.
Gyllenhaal gives Bloom a manic gleam, making it easy to see why, although he may unsettle those he encounters, he also proves irresistible. The actor is complemented by his castmates: Russo excels as the seen-it-all news director, uninterested in anything other than dominating the ratings and holding onto her job, while Ahmed is heartbreaking as Bloom’s tentative collaborator, forever unsure of where he’s being led.
Gilroy, directing from his own screenplay, manages to maintain a tricky balance between comedy, drama and horror. “Nightcrawler” considers the absurdity of it all, even as it rages against those who perpetuate such crassness.
“Nightcrawler,” an Open Road release, is rated R for violence, including graphic images, and language. Running time: 117 minutes. twisty-turning tale in the “Memento” style.
Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up each day confused. Her eyes dart around the unfamiliar bed, the alien bedroom, the stranger’s hand draped across her.
Their bathroom is plastered in snapshots — of their wedding, their years together.
“I’m Ben, your husband,” the man (Colin Firth) says. “Christine, you’re 40 ... It was a bad accident.”
None of it rings a bell for her. Christine has lost 20 years and every night when she dozes off she loses that day’s memories as well.
A phone call promises help, a clue. Look in your closet, the voice of a man calling himself a doctor tells her. Look for the shoebox with the digital camera in it. Her video diary is there. Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) is the one who got her to start keeping one.
But something unsettles her, the bits of her past that the doctor, who insists she keep their relationship a secret, tells her. And she’s not sure what to make of the omissions her husband is leaving out of that story “to protect you.” “So you edit my life?” “Before I Go to Sleep” hangs on Kidman’s intimate performance. She whispers, girlishly, shocked at being told she had an affair, puzzled that the two men give her differing versions of how she lost her memory. At the beginning of each day, she is passive, naive and trusting. She gets into the car of the man who calls himself her doctor without question.
But as the days progress and the story advances, she adds t o t hat diary and becomes assertive, questioning and suspicious. Some days, she suspects the husband of manipulating her. Some days, the doctor. Some evenings she’s drawn to the man who says he’s trying to heal her, and some she has sex with the man who insists he’s withholding details to save her pain and heartache.
Writer-director Rowan Joffe (he wrote the Clooney hitman thriller, “The American”), adapting an S.J. Watson novel, maintains the mystery at the heart of this puzzle picture and jolts us with the odd shock — a violent flashback, a loud horn blast from a passing truck that nearly hits someone.
But he wisely lets this be an actor’s picture. Strong, often cast as villains, is poker-faced here, close-ups capturing wheels turning that could be a doctor reasoning out a talking cure or someone with reason to keep Christine in the dark.
Whatever twists this puzzle tosses at us, the film reminds us that a great actor, in close-up, telling a story with just her or his eyes, is still the greatest special effect the movies have to offer. This cast telling this story ensures us that nobody will be dozing off “Before I Go to Sleep.”
“Before I Go To Sleep,” a Clarius/Millennium release, is rated R for some brutal violence and language. Running time: 93 minutes. ½