No one likes Jake Gyllenhaal when he's cuddly. We like him strung out, depressed, and manic. I think he's learned that by now, but sometimes, you gotta make Prince of Persia to pay for the new whatever you just spent a ton of money on. But then you get back to juicy roles in Donnie Darko, Zodiac, and Prisoners. The anomaly in his career is the only role for which he was nominated for an Oscar, as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain. Yet the warm and loving exterior of that man belies a deep mistrust of the world and pain at having to hide his true self from it. Boning Anne Hathaway is no fun if you're gay, even if it is Anne Hathaway you're boning.

With Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal solidifies his status as a bonafide, A-list actor. In it, he plays Louis Bloom, a gaunt loner who stalks the streets of Los Angeles at night looking for whatever will pay the rent and his Internet connection. He lives alone in an unassuming apartment, whiling away his days in front of the computer teaching himself about business practices and reading self-help books. When he actually interacts with other human beings, it's only because they have something he wants. Otherwise, as he says, "I don't really like people."

The first thing we see him doing is clipping up a fence with wire cutters, apparently with the intent to sell them for scrap. He's accosted by a security guard, who blinds him with a flashlight. Before Bloom puts down the cutters, we can see different expressions playing across his face: he's deciding how to approach this situation. When Bloom talks to the guard, he questions his status as a real law enforcement officer, and eyes the expensive-looking watch on the man's wrist. The next scene we see, Bloom has got the watch on, and he piles the fence into the back of his car. What happened to the other guy? Well, can't you tell? And furthermore, are you even surprised?

Bloom reminds me of the Joker from The Dark Knight. He feels to us as though he simply appeared out of thin air, and even if we knew his backstory, it couldn't actually account for any of his behavior. He's like "a dog chasing cars," as the Joker puts it so vividly. But once Bloom finds what he's looking for, he will stop at nothing—and spare no one—to get what he wants. We see this in his relationship with Nina (Rene Russo), the director of the early morning news segment at a swiftly failing news station. Bloom has discovered he has a knack for filming the horrific results of violent crimes and car accidents that occur on a nightly basis. Since he has a disregard for his own well-being (not unlike the Joker), he doesn't mind risking his life and freedom to get the best possible shot. This turns into exceptional material for Nina, whose career is on the wane and needs the sensational stuff Bloom brings to her on a reliable basis. There's a terrific scene in which Bloom has decided that he is done playing around with Nina, and he makes several demands of her—some of which may rub audiences the wrong way—establishing his dominance over her. Despite the fact that Nina clearly had the upper hand earlier on the film, the tables have turned, and she is utterly at his mercy. It is chilling to watch a powerful and tough actress like Russo bow down to a man like Bloom; clearly, she has underestimated him.

Dan Gilroy, an experienced screenwriter, directs the film, and it is his first feature. You can tell that he's been paying attention to other filmmakers all these years, especially Michael Mann, because he does an exceptional job at streamlining the story and really focusing on Bloom as a character. His statements about the corruption of local news are less salient, and serve mostly to propel Bloom further into darkness. That darkness becomes truly disturbing, particularly once we see what Bloom is willing to do to his assistant (Riz Ahmed) in order to get the best story. Gilroy is helped by his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, who won an Oscar for There Will Be Blood. Elswit helps to create another classic film about Los Angeles by placing the light in just the right place to make the city feel like it is being infected by people like Bloom, whom you can only assume are rampant.

One of the weirdest aspects about an already strange film is the score by James Newton Howard, who worked with Hans Zimmer on the scores to the first two films in the Dark Knight trilogy. The score, comprised mainly of guitar riffs that hang in the air for what seems like an eternity, is completely at odds with the subject matter. Sometimes it feels positively uplifting, as if to glorify Bloom. We can feel its power particularly when we watch Bloom rearrange bodies at the scene of a brutal car accident. As Bloom slinks around the cars, electric guitar chords ring out, until the final shot, which zooms into Bloom's face as he surveys the gory, artful masterpiece he has composed. The look on Gyllenhaal's face is one of spiritual ecstasy, underlined by the triumphant music. It is an unusual touch that will likely divide audiences. It worked for me, and so did the rest of this great film.