Movie Review: 'Nightcrawler,' Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo

Get all the details of the thriller, co-starring Rene Russo.

— -- Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton

Rated R

Four-and-a-half out of five stars

Part "Taxi Driver," part "Network" with a dash of "Rain Man" thrown in, "Nightcrawler" is a savvy story about the media’s often compromised moral compass, built around a searing and indelible performance by the consistently impressive Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a repugnant, fast-talking petty criminal who has no problem resorting to violence to acquire bounty he can pawn off to a local construction site or consignment shop. Lou’s a bit different, though, treating his sales like legitimate business transactions, bargaining with prospective buyers using language he learned from online business classes. But as smart as he sounds, his customers ain’t buyin’ it. Lou needs a new racket.

Lou stumbles upon that very thing when he decides to pull over, late at night on one of Los Angeles’ many busy freeways, to witness two cops attempting to pull a woman out of burning car. When he’s shoved aside by a freelance news crew of two men with cameras, led by Joe (Bill Paxton), Lou is inspired. He peppers Joe with questions about the business of “nightcrawling,” listening to police scanners and getting to the scene of an accident or crime to shoot video and sell it to news shows.

Lou steals a bike and trades it for a cheap camcorder and police scanner. It doesn’t take him long to record his first salable video, which he offers to a struggling local news station run by Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a former news anchor desperate to boost her ratings.

Nina pays Joe $250 for his trouble, tells him to buy better equipment, and whenever he’s got something special, to contact her first.

Lou’s in business, and so are we.

"Nightcrawler" writer and director Dan Gilroy gives us a smart, thrilling, though somewhat embellished story about sensationalism in the media, with some pretty damning commentary about its decision makers. Lou is a predator of violent crimes and accidents with no concern for the humanity of the story.

Not only will he move bodies to frame a better shot, he’ll withhold information from the police if it’ll lead to an exclusive story. Nina’s aware of Lou’s lack of ethics and yet becomes dependent on him, in stark contrast to the construction site foreman who refused to hire Lou because he knew he was a thief.

Gyllenhaal dropped weight and changed his hair for "Nightcrawler." Just imagine De Niro’s Travis Bickle from "Taxi Driver" with an MBA and Mark Cuban’s sales moxie.

Gyllenhaal’s is a perfect performance in one of the year’s smartest films.