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With a name as innocuous as Louis Bloom, you wouldn’t initially suspect the lead character of Nightcrawler to be so dangerous. But the virulent Lou is the kind of guy who dissolves into shadows; who feeds vampirically in the darkness. He’s not a villain so much as a force of nature. Silent but deadly. His politeness is alarming, starkly juxtaposed by the edgy vibration of his piercing, bulbous eyes. His word choice; precise as a bone saw. His demeanor; direct but detached. Like a drone. He’s a bug-eyed Terminator sans the metallic endoskeleton; a top-knotted Patrick Bateman without the 401K. In the role, Jake Gyllenhaal is angelic. He’s equally demonic. He’s perfect mopping up uncomfortable silences, guttural laughs and wry grins like a janitor in a milking cow factory.

Caught in the high beams of a night patrolman, Lou materializes from the shadows like an apparition. A ghoulish grin masking his face. He notes his trespassing is accidental. He also notes the pricy hunk of watch adorning the wrist of the Paul Blart eying him with petulant suspicion. The next scene, it’s Lou wearing the watch.

Throughout the film, Lou’s facial expressions percolate with a kind of serpentine other-worldliness. As if his tongue could dart from his mouth at any moment to nip at the night air. It doesn’t. He remains squarely within the realm of the human. No matter how inhumane he is. A testament to Dan Gilroy‘s narrow degree of restraint and Gyllenhaal’s tightrope-walking ability.

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When we meet Lou, he’s a drifter; fencing fences and manhole covers. Begging for jobs with an armory of interview-friendly terminology and all the manicured motions of a “respectable” human being. At a car crash, he yanks his beatermobile to the shoulder to observe its burny grotesqueries and runs into Joe Loder, a TV news freelancer who roams the nights to capture domestic implosions on film. Loder (Bill Paxton) says the job is hell. The next scene, Lou has camera in tow, hunting down the next suburban calamity. It isn’t long before he’s whipping up his own crime scenes and hiring a slacky intern (Riz Ahmed).

In his junker motorcade of journalistic un-tegrity, Lou rips a hole through the banality of the LA night, hunting down the next big tragedy like a slobbering machine, manipulating it when need be and selling it off to the news producer running the graveyard shift, Nina (Rene Russo). Camcorders are his business cards. Bloody car crashes his boardrooms. Murdered families, the money shot coup de grâce to end a good night on.

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Nina knows the business is blood sport. Local news is nothing but modern day gladiatorial work. She’s titillated by promises of gory plane crashes. B&E’s are her bee’s knees. She wets herself over triple homicides. Russo holds the performance together by the skin of her teeth, refusing to reveal weakness behind that modernized beehive and liberal thrashing of makeup. As the tension mounts between Lou and Nina, a new dynamic takes shape: one that’s uproariously creepy and carnally delicious. Watching Lou sic Nina is watching the hungry wolf lick his chops before he preys.

Piggybacking on my earlier Patrick Bateman comparison, Nightcrawler deals in a similar brand of corporate black humor as American Psycho, taking aim at the blanket sensationalization of news and, to a lesser degree, our woeful economic state. It’s wickedly funny in a deadpan, threatening kind of way – like Nick Nolte – with Gyllenhaal’s knockout performance informing the laughs like a conductor with a rosewood baton. He is the slaughterer of the lamb, we the vultures come to pick the bones. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll eat up the meaty sarcasm like roast beef on Christmas.

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To see the transformation of the shmuck with the Wall Street name from lowly drifter to certifiable media mogul is enough reason to see the film, even though it drags along some basic fixer-uppers that stick out uncomfortably. James Newton Howard‘s score – the man responsible for music-ing such clunkers as Maleficent, Parkland, After Earth, Snow White and the Huntsman, Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, The Tourist and more – often feels out of place, as if it were teleported in from an entirely different movie from an entirely different genre. Howard was scoring a straight thriller as we watched a brutally dark comedy unfold. It’s never in junction with the piece so much as it detracts from it with blast after blast of heavy-handed straightforwardness and a tonal lack of understanding the subtle transformations of character. Were Trent Reznor or Cliff Martinez behind the music, it would have stood out that much more.

Further, the film lacks an entirely solid starting and finishing point. The meat in between is so tender, so perfect, but it kind of drifts in and drifts out without the slap in the face that I both wanted and expected. Come on, punch me. I can handle it. But I guess it makes metaphorical sense for a movie of this nature to creep in and creep out without warning. If not for those few minor miscalculations, Nightcrawler could have driven itself into a sheer state of perfection.

A nightcrawler, not to be confused with the blue Russian teleport from the X-Men comics, is a bottom feeder. A succubus. A drive by job with a camera. They find you in your weakest moments – battered, bloodied and broken – and display it for the world to see. There’s no scruples in the line of work; no lines. It’s a brawl. A exploitative, invasive, harrowing brawl. And the public eats it up like pigs at the stye. They feed on it like vampires. They need it. The supply and demand chain is self-fulfilling. The watchers become the watched. Karma’s a bitch. Nightcrawler finds its target audience like a lumpy tumor, poking it and prodding it with the precision of a surgeon. It’s often equally as brilliant. Lou likes to say that if you’re seeing him, it’s the worst day of your life. Quite the opposite can be said about this film.

A

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