Tucked deep inside “Nightcrawler” is a really good film that examines how far television news agencies will go for ratings.
This sort of modern-day “Network” is sunk, however, by its utterly deplorable lead character played by JakeGyllenhaal.
It’s a good performance from Gyllenhaal, and perhaps it’s too good because he overshadows any of the social commentary with one of the year’s most uncomfortable characters.
Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a drifter who stumbles into a gig as a freelance video journalist compiling footage of the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles.
Bloom strikes up a relationship with a station manager named Nina (Rene Russo) who is desperate to get her station out of the ratings cellar.
That desperation evolves into concern as it becomes apparent Bloom will stop at nothing to get footage, including some shortcuts that create an ethicaldilemma.
Bloom reminded me a lot of Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver,” an emotionally unstable person who you can sense will snap at any moment. He’s so unstable that I found a hard time believing Nina or a man that Bloom takes under his wings as an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) could be around him more than 30 minutes without realizing how troubled he is.
Writer/director Dan Gilroy has some really nice elements in play, though. There is a great scene in which Nina feeds lines to her anchors as they air raw footage of a triple homicide, and Bill Paxton has a good role as Bloom’s chief rival.
If his character had been the focus of “Nightcrawler,” I think it would have been much more effective.
Instead, it’s a film that ultimately disappoints despite a lot of promise.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “A Most Wanted Man” (B), a throwback to those Cold War thrillers that offers a compelling storyline and a great chance to see one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances.
“A Most Wanted Man” tells the story of Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who arrives in the Hamburg Islamic community, looking to lay claim to his father’s fortune acquired by questionable means.
His arrival draws the interest of several government agencies, which includes the German secret police headed by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman).
The cast also includes Rachel McAdams as an immigration officer helping Issa and Robin Wright as an American diplomatic attache.
Each character is like a piece on the chess board with director Anton Corbijn, working off a novel from John le Carré, building tension as the twists and turns evolve – building to a final burn that may not be that shocking, but is still effective.
Fans of Cold War-era thrillers will appreciate “A Most Wanted Man,” which has the same feel as films like “No Way Out” and “The Hunt For Red October.”
But perhaps the biggest strength of “A Most Wanted Man” is Hoffman, who disappears into his role complete with the thick German accent. It’s a reminder of how great of a character actor Hoffman was.
“A Most Wanted Man” is rated R for language and is now available on DVD