Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom and Riz Ahmed as Rick...

Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom and Riz Ahmed as Rick in "Nightcrawler," written and directed by Dan Gilroy, opening Oct. 31, 2014. Credit: Open Road Films / Chuck Zlotnick

In "Nightcrawler," Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a young man with talent, ambition and no morals whatsoever. Lou is the kind of person who wouldn't help if you were bleeding to death in the street. Unfortunately, that is exactly how you'd be likely to meet him.

Lou is a freelance videographer working the crime beat in Los Angeles, a career he stumbles into at the beginning of "Nightcrawler." Jobless and despondent, Lou pulls over to inspect a fresh car crash but becomes distracted by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), who leaps from a screeching van to film the carnage. Joe explains that he sells the footage to local news stations, a job he cheerfully compares to a certain repulsive anatomical affliction. "Thank you," Lou says, "for taking the time to discuss what you do."

Lou isn't one of Gyllenhaal's trademark brooders ("Prisoners," "End of Watch") but a sociopathic loner with feverish eyes and a skeletal smile (the actor lost roughly 30 pounds for the role). Preying on others' misfortune, Lou races through L.A. with a cheap camcorder, a police scanner and a dim-bulb sidekick, Rick (Riz Ahmed). Lou keeps a list of top-selling titles: "Horror in Echo Park," "Drunk Mom Kills Biker," "Toddler Stabbed." His biggest buyer is KWLA/Ch. 6, whose low-rated, bottom-feeding newscast is run by Nina Romina (Rene Russo, sultry and steely at once). "You have a good eye," she says, scanning one of Lou's clearly suspicious but irresistibly ghastly clips. Romance is in the air.

"Nightcrawler" is the kind of movie that rarely hits multiplexes anymore, an edgy, pulpy thriller with a social conscience and a vicious satirical streak. "Nightcrawler" will draw inevitable comparisons to "Network," Sidney Lumet's infamous broadside from 1976, and some may find it equally beyond the pale. If the movie sometimes feels like a sledgehammer, however, it hits every nail dead-on. "Think of our newscast," Nina says, "as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut."

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