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‘Nightcrawler’ manages to be a scathing look at ambition and journalistic sensationalism while still delivering as a dark thriller.

Jake Gyllenhaal gets his creep on brilliantly as Lou Bloom, a low-level crook who discovers the grisly world of freelance video journalism — if that’s what you can call it — one night. Pulling over at the scene of an accident, he watches as a van carrying a veteran cameraman (Bill Paxton) arrives to shoot the bloody victim. Bloom soon realizes the footage will be sold to the highest bidder among L.A.’s local TV stations.

Bloom figures he can do that and soon, camera in hand and police scanner chattering in his car, he’s spending his nights chasing mayhem on the streets. There’s a learning curve, but Bloom quickly understands the “If it bleeds it leads” dictum that dominates news, and it turns out he has a natural scent for blood.

He begins selling footage to Nina (the too-rarely seen Rene Russo), the news director at a low-rated TV station, and the sensational video he brings her not only boosts her ratings, but also her career. Bloom then takes on an intern, a down-and-out guy named Rick (Riz Ahmed).

It’s clear from the beginning there’s something odd and dangerous about Bloom, whose personality is somewhere between Forrest Gump and a cult follower, but as writer-director Dan Gilroy (he wrote “The Bourne Legacy”) rolls the film, it becomes ever more clear that Bloom is a full-blown sociopath. He endlessly lectures Rick, controls Nina, and does whatever it takes to get his gory shots.

It’s delicious stuff for Gyllenhaal and he makes Bloom a wide-eyed moral vacuum who, sad to say, is very much a man of his time.

TLong@detroitnews.com

‘Nightcrawler’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language

Running time: 117 minutes

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