Robert DeNiro-style, Jake Gyllenhaal apparently lost 30 pounds to give himself a gaunt look that really adds to the character he plays in this film. Indeed, Nightcrawler is almost like an homage to early Martin Scorsese/DeNiro films, and in terms of style and content it would fit in quite comfortably somewhere in between Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a loner, borderline sociopath and  someone who could pass as a latterday Travis Bickle, but without the PTS and a lot more self-centred focus rather than general anger, which is basically the difference between New York in the 1970s and LA just about any time.

Equally inept socially, Bloom is a going-nowhere kind of guy who discovers a new lease of life in Los Angeles nightlife when he comes across a roving camera crew hunting down car crashes and acts of violence, in order to sell the footage to the highest TV bidder.

Immediately hooked, Bloom decides this is the job for him and learns all he can, and as quickly as possible, about filming. But what he doesn't realise is that he's dealing with real people here. Before long, he becomes much less an observer of what happens in Los Angeles after dark and begins to play a part in the narrative.

Experienced screenwriter Dan Gilroy is an impressive first-time director, and his wife Rene Russo plays the TV news boss who gives Bloom a break.

Well-paced, relentless and fascinating to watch, Nightcrawler is both astute social commentary on our times and a damn fine drama. Gyllenhaal, though, is outstanding, and features in almost every frame. It's a tour-de-force that may well earn him a deserved Oscar nod next year. He's absolutely mesmerising in the role and I'm struggling to think of a better film I've seen this year.

John Byrne