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Gyllenhaal makes, covers grisly side of news

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Petty thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) was eking out a living selling stolen scrap metal to junkyards until the day he stumbled upon a legitimate line of work when he pulled over to assist a driver trapped in a fiery car crash. There, he was surprised to find ghoulish freelance journalists flocking to the scene with the hope of shooting graphic video footage to sell to network television stations.

He quietly observed them in action before asking a forthcoming reporter probing questions about what the job entailed. A quick learner, after listening intently, Lou visited a pawn shop to purchase a camcorder and police scanner, the only tools essential to enter the business, besides the car he already had.

The next thing you know, he is roaming around the streets of Los Angeles, joining the cutthroat competition to be the first to arrive in the aftermath of the next gruesome murder or highway pileup. Understanding the TV news credo, “If it bleeds, it leads,” he starts picking which emergency calls to pursue based on their potential for providing the sort of visually-captivating pictures popular with viewers.

Upon meeting with a little early success, he soon hires a homeless dude (Rick Garcia) as his navigator. More importantly, he develops a mutually-beneficial relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), veteran news director at Channel 6, the local station with the lowest ratings. Lou’s uncanny ability to get grisly shots conveniently coincides with Nina and KWLA’s desperate need to attract a wider audience.

Thus unfolds “Nightcrawl­er,” a combination character portrait/riveting thriller marking the noteworthy directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. Jake Gyllenhaal is better than ever here in the title role, eclipsing both his brilliant outing just last year in “Prisoners” as well as his Oscar-nominated performance in “Brokeback Mountain.”

As this film further unfolds, the plot thickens considerably when Lou opts to make news rather than merely cover it. For, the potential financial rewards become so tempting that he begins to orchestrate events for the sake of the almighty dollar. Worse, his benefactor Nina proves willing to look the other way in the face of mounting evidence that her star stringer might be crossing an ethical line.

A sobering cautionary tale suggesting that you reflect upon all the motivations of a news source before swallowing the veracity of a story, hook, line and sinker.

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