Jake Gyllenhaal, not a particularly bulky guy to begin with, dropped 20 pounds or so to play a Los Angeles misfit who finds his calling as a freelance crime videographer in Dan Gilroy's nervy thriller Nightcrawler. Even when Robert De Niro does it, weight change isn't acting -- it's the antithesis of acting, merely a symbol of an actor's dedication and not the tensile, complicated act of commitment itself, which can unspool only in performance. But you could say that in reshaping his body and face, Gyllenhaal has achieved a kind of art direction of the self. His eyes, almost inhumanly enormous within that now-bony face, are as much a part of the look of Nightcrawler as its rapturous nocturnal Los Angeles streetscapes. As sociopathic self-starter Louis Bloom, Gyllenhaal has refashioned himself as a version of the Tony Perkins of Psycho, an Adam's apple with a sick, brilliant mind attached.
Gyllenhaal is the polestar of Nightcrawler -- just as he's fixated on the grisly crimes and accidents of his city, we can't look away from him. That seems to be part of writer-director Gilroy's design. He's infused Nightcrawler with a number of ideas, free-floating through the movie like fireflies: Gilroy takes on the news media's lust for increasingly prurient stories and graphic news footage, and the way crimes against white people take precedence over anything that happens to a person of color. But on the strength of Gyllenhaal's performance, Nightcrawler works best as a character study. It's chilling, but also wickedly funny and strange, like a good, dark Brian De Palma joke -- in short, it's everything the stolid and humorless Gone Girl should have been.