11/17/2014 01:17 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

Nightcrawler : Graveyard Shifts

Jake Gyllenhaal is really creepy. He inhabits Nightcrawler's Lou Bloom, spouting moronic self-help platitudes and shopworn organizational nostrums like a broken pipe gushing effluent into the stream of our culture.

It's a stellar performance that not so much creates, but distills an American type. He's the American Dream as horrific nightmare, with all the ambition and chutzpah, and none of the humanity or concern for consequences. Surely this is how one climbs or descends the ladder of success. His hollow eyes register no feedback. He can't hear us. His conventional-wisdoms-on-steroids are a one way street, like the city roads he turns into one way streets speeding down towards his next news victim.

We meet Lou Bloom doing what he does best -- stealing from other people. It's only metals for resale at first. He's a quick learner and a hard worker. He applies these qualities to carve out a niche as a freelance news photographer, pursuing shots of blood and gore from crimes and accidents to sell to local television news programs. Bloom is always pushing beyond the limits of the law, taste and morality. From participating in petty crimes, he graduates to filming it and ultimately participating.

Although Nightcrawler is Gyllenhall's vehicle, he's well supported by Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Each of them plays smartly off Gyllenhaal, allowing him to develop different aspects of his toxic core. Paxton and Russo have transitioned nicely from romantic leads to richly textured character actors. Russo embraces her age as the cynical, morally challenged graveyard News Director at ratings starved KWLA. Her interactions with Lou Bloom are chilling and predictable. The film excercises the good judgement lacking in Russo's television station in that it suggests, rather than graphically depicting the resolution of this relationship. Riz Ahmed, as a desparate homeless man conscripted into Bloom's business, develops his character as a guileless sympathetic foil.

Dan Gilroy's sure-handed direction and character driven writing builds suspense and skillfully layers action. Robert Elswit's cinematography, at times a beautiful noirish portrait of Los Angeles and at other times an unblinking blood bath of violence, breathes a darker life into Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. This is a modern Raymond Chandler's L.A. of twisted wreckages of lives pulled from the streets to sensationalize and politicize our television "news." From it all emerges Lou Bloom, a very American story.