Screenwriter Dan Gilroy's directorial debut, Nightcrawler, is a scalding treatment of the "bleeds and leads" dictum in big city broadcast news that will be an Oscar-contender because of the wonder of Jake Gyllenhaal's performance. In a role that raises his game substantially, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a cunning and resourceful shyster who is as oily as his hair. Gyllenhaal is all method acting and immersion as a textbook sociopath who turns away from theft when he discovers a more lucrative game, that of a night owl freelance videographer who feeds ratings-hungry stations with grimy footage from roadway accidents, house fires and assaults. Bloom finds a willing mark in fourth-place KWLA news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo, who is married to Gilroy), whose response to the query "what is news" is "a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut."
Bloom is an amazingly quick study, which is typical of arch manipulators, and admits to having had little formal education. He learns from the Internet and from aping others and his speech and manner befit one so detached from real human interaction. The genius of Gyllenhaal's portrayal -- and it is genius -- is the paradoxical "rational madness" behind Bloom's forced sociableness. He does what he must to get what he wants at the time. He's a liar and, as we discover in the final reel, is completely lacking in empathy and compassion.
The brilliance of Gilroy's writing and directing is in the gradualness of this reveal. The pacing is superb and the tension is unrelenting. A pivotal scene midway through the film has Lou and Nina meeting over drinks and dinner and Lou laying out -- coldly, without a hint of the empathy that keeps "normal" people from imposing on others -- what Nina will deliver to him without question -- opportunity, money and sexual favors. It's a jaw-droppingly forward move brought to life by two actors who are perfectly pitched. The gambit -- and the scene -- work so well because Nina (and the audience) is convinced Lou is not your garden variety loony. His is a very special kind of madness -- the kind that will undoubtedly make him rich and famous. Highly recommended.