Film reviews: Nightcrawler (15) | Mr Turner (12A)

Jake Gyllenhaal's nightcrawling skills prove invaluable to TV news editor Rene Russo.

Jake Gyllenhaal's nightcrawling skills prove invaluable to TV news editor Rene Russo.

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LIKE skirt lengths and TV shows, journalism on-screen mirrors the state of the world. Sixty years ago Ace In The Hole seemed ground-breakingly bleak when Kirk Douglas manufactured a media circus around a local man trapped by a cave collapse.

Nightcrawler (15)

Director Dan Gilroy

Running time 117 minutes

Star Rating: ****

Network captured TV’s self-importance and, subtextually, the misogyny of the time. No wonder reporters tend to prefer Broadcast News, where journalists admit that breaking news stories is better than sex. Nightcrawler asks another pertinent question; in the age of freelance and outsourced news, do you care who gathers and delivers the most sensational footage?

In Dan Gilroy’s first feature, groups of “nightcrawlers” scan the police wavebands for gruesome crimes and crashes, then rush to the scenes with their video cameras and flog the coverage to the highest-bidding TV station.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles across them while he’s scraping the streets of Los Angeles, looking for things to sell, like the fencing around a building site. Gyllenhaal dieted for the role, so Lou is as taut and skinny as a coyote. At first, however, he seems clueless rather than unsettling, asking a local scrap dealer to give him a job straight after selling him some obviously illicit metal. “I’ve been told I’m persistent,” he says, but the dealer only wants the loot, not the man.

There’s something of Travis Bickle about Lou, but also Rupert Pupkin: he’s intense and delusional in an upbeat way, quoting tips from glib business seminars, and pitching himself with shining-eyed fervour.

A car accident brings him into the world of the nightcrawlers as they swarm over the car and the victim. One veteran freelancer (Bill Paxton) with a flashy van full of equipment demonstrates the next step; phone-bashing TV news companies until there’s a sale.

Realising there’s more money to be made from stealing images than nicking metal, Lou snatches a high quality bike and trades it for a cheap camera and a police radio scanner. He also latches on to Nina (Rene Russo), a news editor on the nightshift who is desperate for lurid images that will help her hang on to her job. Very quickly, Lou blossoms in his new line of work. He’s a quick learner, disciplined, opportunistic and completely lacking moral boundaries. He starts to reshape his stories, rearranging photographs for a more poignant shot, or shifting a body at a crime scene so that it’s better lit, instead of seeing whether he can help any of the victims.

Director Gilroy, the scriptwriter of Bourne Legacy, may not be ripping the lid off shady newsgathering, but he has crafted a film that is properly creepy. A scene where Lou propositions Nina (Russo is Gilroy’s wife by the way) would be shocking even to a hard-bitten news editor. Also good – and surprisingly funny – is Riz Ahmed as Rick, Lou’s hapless intern, who has to navigate the streets of Los Angeles at night at top speed, while listening to Lou’s Apprentice-style corporate homilies. Gyllenhaal’s character seems destined to become part of popular culture; “I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself,” he assures his new recruits. They should jump into their vans and head for the hills.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

• On general release from Friday

Mr Turner (12A)

Star Rating: ****

Director Mike Leigh’s solution to the problem of condensing the life of England’s most celebrated painter to feature film length is to drop in during the last 25 years in short, episodic visits.

By his later years, JMW Turner (played by Timothy Spall, right) is a famous, rich, irascible and porcine painter. At two-and-a-half hours, this is not a portrait in miniature, but Spall is mesmerising to watch, even making a convincing show of creating some of Turner’s famous works before the camera, including The Fighting Temeraire.

Turner the man was rich in contradiction. He could be abrupt, even with those who adored him, including his mousey, scrofulous housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson), with whom he has the occasional and mercifully short bunk-up. He is downright splenetic with the mother of his children (Ruth Sheen) and yet shows proper filial devotion to his father (Paul Jesson). A retired barber, the older Turner also performed domestic duties, and at one point, typical of the film’s mordant sense of humour, Leigh cuts from Turner’s father shaving a pig’s head before it goes into the roasting tin, to another razor, where Turner Sr shaves his son with the same meticulousness.

Even Turner’s grace note, a sweet relationship with a widow in Margate (Marion Bailey), carries Leigh’s deadpan hallmark: they have a photograph taken together – the painter’s first encounter with a camera. And, of course, it fails to capture a likeness of either of them.

• On general release from Friday

OTHER RELEASES

Nas: Time Is Illmatic (15)

Star Rating:****

Surprisingly involving dissection of Nasir Jones’ Illmatic album, created 20 years ago and regarded by some as the greatest rap album ever. A stylish portrait of groundbreaking talent, whether you care about hip-hop or not.

Glasgow Film Theatre from tomorrow until Thursday

The Way He Looks (12A)

Star Rating: ***

A blind teenager (Ghilherme Lobo) falls in love with a student at his school in this unremarkable but engaging coming-of-age drama from Brazil. Belle and Sebastian provide the soundtrack

• Glasgow Film Theatre, tomorrow until Thursday

Serena (15)

Star Rating: **

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper team up for the third time, but there’s little charm in Susanne Bier’s awkward drama about a married couple who murder their way to a timber empire during the Depression. Log off.

• On general release

Horns (15)

Star Rating: ***

Daniel Radcliffe (below) is grief-stricken when his girlfriend (Juno Temple) is murdered. When the town decides he’s the prime suspect, he wakes up with a pair of horns and some new powers. Alexandre Aja’s horror fable seems most likely to please intense adolescents.

On general release

Extraterrestrial (15)

Star Rating: **

Aliens land in rural America to terrorise some teenagers. A blunt picture where everything feels borrowed from earlier, better films.

• On general release

The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman (15)

Star Rating: **

Shia LaBeouf arrives in Bucharest at the request of his mother’s ghost and becomes embroiled with Evan Rachel Wood and her violent husband Mads Mikkelsen. A tedious film; its death seems necessary, even merciful.

• On general release

Love, Rosie (15)

Star Rating: *

Lily Collins and Sam Claflin are best friends obviously longing for something more in this brightly moronic young adult romance.

• On general release

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