At its heart, Nightcrawler is a satirical and cynical look at TV news in America, specifically Los Angeles.

The story is, on the surface, routine: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a self-help junkie who can regurgitate the wisdom of others, but has little of his own. He steals – sometimes with violence – but craves his version of a straight life with a job and an eventual journey up the ladder of success.

This strange individual chances upon a freelance camera crew at the scene of an accident. He sees an opportunity, and armed with a crappy video, a police scanner, and patience, sets off on his new career. After a lucky break he gets a piece of video that he sells to a local TV station. He is now on the right path.

He recruits an assistant (Riz Ahmed) whom he torments with his self help dialogue and abusive management technique, not to say the threat of violence.

And he forms a working relationship with Nina (Rene Russo) at one local TV station that he leverages into something different.

We see Bloom push the borders further and further. He rearranges an accident scene to get better footage. He ducks into a crime scene to get more bloody footage. He fights off the competition. And then his crowning achievement when he arrives at the site of a home invasion before the police – and even before the invaders have finished. Once again, Bloom leverages the footage and the situation in a way the audience can only squirm at as the consequences inevitably turn bloody.

It’s a long film without any dull moments. I was engrossed. Gyllenhaal’s performance is focused, manic, and thoroughly convincing. Rene Russo’s support role is well done. Some of the encounters between those two are brilliantly scripted. There is plenty of sharp and judgmental material delivered in an understated way. I was also impressed that the writer didn’t insult his audience with gratuitous sex scenes. Part of the attraction of the movie is that we know some of what is going on behind the scenes, but we are not certain, and we are never simply told. Riz Ahmed fills his position with a measured dose of naivety, vulnerability and slow burning resentment.

The cinematography was excellent, and Los Angeles formed a perfect backdrop to this almost gladiatorial contest for bloody pictures and success in the ratings war.

Thoughtful, intelligent, entertaining. Great cinema.