Nightcrawler is one of those films that isn’t really revolutionary in many ways, but it’s so thoroughly solid that it locks you in. The story of a strange, small time thief, brilliantly played by a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal, harkens back to critical anti-heroes in cinema, like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, telling the tale of someone who’s clearly somewhat unhinged, but whose reasons behind his actions are relatable, if not always understood.

Living alone in Los Angeles, Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) just wants to make a living. But selling stolen goods to someone and then asking if they’re hiring is a puzzling way to go about it. Bloom is immediately established as somewhat desperate, if slightly robotic and distant. He’s one who has a knack for creating awkward situations without either not noticing or, more often, not caring. Immediately intelligible and articulate, it’s hard to totally dismiss him, despite that underlying hint of creepiness. It’s easy to root for him a little bit because his earnestness can be endearing but also because, like many, he just has no direction. It’s a relatable feeling and allows Bloom to become real, and most importantly, understood.

When he happens upon a highway accident and watches the news cameras capturing the carnage, he is immediately drawn to it. After conning his way to acquiring a camera — humorously a handheld instead of the usual oversize ones — and a police scanner, he begins testing his hand at TV crime journalism. Gyllenhaal, who reportedly lost 25-30 pounds for his role, is potently eerie as Bloom. Inspired to play Bloom like a coyote, so much so that the film’s title was almost changed, his angular frame only adds to the severity of the role. Writer and Director Dan Gilroy (brother of Tony Gilroy, writer and director of Michael Clayton, amongst others) doesn’t shy away from breaking the tension with some humor, although it’s always dark and twisted.

Still, it’s thrilling to marvel at this slightly disturbed man climb the ladder as he delivers his footage to Nina (Rene Russo, and Gilroy’s wife), News Director at the lowest-rated L.A. network. As much as the success of the film hangs on Gyllenhaal’s nail-biting performance, Russo recalls her best work of the ‘90’s. She’s so comfortable in her role as Bloom’s key to the kingdom, and someone who shares his drive for success at any cost, that it’s hard to forget she hasn’t done anything this great in at least 15 years.

Nina likes the bloody scoops that Louis brings her and he’s soon established enough to hire an “intern,” the nearly homeless Rick (Riz Ahmed). Although Louis treats the interview, in a diner no less, as professional as Wall Street, he only hires Rick because he’s willing to work for peanuts. Rick’s aloofness and initial trepidation towards Louis is in complete contrast to him, but Rick also acts as a conduit for the audience.

Bloom’s drive for something respectable is compounded with his strive for perfection that borders on sociopathic. Nightcrawler has the feeling of a B-movie, one that’s driven by a great script, unforgettable acting, and an ominous soundtrack. Also, like a great B-movie, it focuses on the little guy, the part pitiful, part frightening loner who takes to the world during its darkest hours.

Rating: 5 out of 5