For a re­view of “Nightcrawler,”

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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

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