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Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm, Michael Hyatt, Ann Cusack

Director: Dan Gilroy

Because of the medium’s immediacy, I always felt that television news was essentially image-driven rather than leading with stories with no film to decorate them: pictures made better ratings and had more than mere words delivered by a newsreader

Working in TV rather tended to confirm my regrettably cynical view: serendipitously Dan Gilroy, the writer and first-time director of this riveting, all-too-believable thriller, infused with blacker-than-black humour, confirms my opinion of small-screen news with Los Angeles TV news station executive Rene Russo’s video requirements – “If it bleeds, it leads”.

One night in Los Angeles, Jake Gyllenhaal, playing Lou Bloom, who is in need of a job and money, comes across the eponymous ‘Nightcrawlers’, media leeches who hack police scanners and then race to the locations to video crime and crash scenes and sell their exclusive footage to TV news stations. Bloom’s contact with the ‘Nightcrawlers’ catalyses him into joining their number and soon, after recruiting Riz Ahmed as his assistant, he joins the newshounds and rapidly rises to the top of the media bottom-feeders…

Bloom, amoral and cynical to the core, is perfect for the job, cheerfully rearranging corpses for more saleable sequences, and he is perfectly and powerfully played by Gyllenhaal who, having lost 20 pounds for the role and with his hair slicked down on his skull, looks creepier than most horrorflick monsters. It’s a unique portrayal that rightly dominated the drama and one that should win nominations and awards, too.

Effectively used, atmospherically photographed (by Robert Elswit), L.A. locations add force to a vivid, all-too-believable story that could well raise the ratings (and credibility) of radio newscasts.

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: EOne. Colour by FotoKem.
117 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 30 Oct 2014