Nightcrawler: Gyllenhaal dominates screen in mesmerizing performance

You’ll probably need more than one viewing to fully appreciate the incredibly cerebral “Nightcrawler,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a neurotic loner who stumbles into a career as a “nightcrawler” — a freelance television cameraman tasked with filming crime scenes and car accidents.

Though its trailer focuses more on the action, “Nightcrawler” is a fairly “talky” film, with Gyllenhaal’s Lou getting most of the movie’s best — and most ominous — lines.

Lou’s insistence to his intern that he “will never ask you to do something that he would not do himself,” is a common enough phrase used in business taken to a bone-chilling and intense level when viewers actually learn what Lou will do to be first and best at filming a crime scene.

The faint at heart will not appreciate some of the imagery depicted in the gruesome scenes that match the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality of the television news programs the film is centered around.

Gyllenhaal invokes Robert De Niro’s performance in “Taxi Driver” with an added sense of charisma and gravitas, the perfect anti-hero you don’t want to like, but somehow do anyway.

The film is “Collateral” in a different part of Los Angeles almost to a fault. Gyllenhaal gives a better performance than Tom Cruise, but without the benefit of having an actor the caliber of Jamie Foxx riding shotgun.

“Nightcrawler,” like its leading character, is inherently and fatally flawed. So much of the film is dark and brooding, with snarky humor built in to cut the tension in just the right ways.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy hits the mark nine times out of 10 in scenes, with only minor exceptions.

Where the film doesn’t work is in its obtrusive score by James Newton Howard, whose work distracts and conflicts with the rest of the film. Few movies get the soundtrack so wrong in key moments, especially midway through the film as any tension in a scene between Gyllenhaal and a refined Rene Russo is smashed by music more befitting a Disney feature.

Overall, the film is a unique mixture of several top-notch movies that preceded it. It’s “Network” in a “Collateral” world; a modern-day “Taxi Driver” meets “L.A. Confidential” with just a sprinkling of “The Usual Suspects” for good measure.

The best films of 2014 — and it’s sure to continue — are going to be movies like “Nightcrawler” and “Gone Girl” before it, films that are not as straight forward as they appear at first glance, foreboding and requiring intense concentration by the moviegoer to enjoy.

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