Characters don't get more monstrous than Lou Bloom, the gaunt man with sunken eyes and a reptilian demeanor that is the heart of "Nightcrawler."

And they shouldn't, really, especially when you consider the way this modern-day Travis Bickle embodies every worst, craven instinct of a culture where "if it bleeds, it leads" has practically become a way of life.

As embodied by Jake Gyllenhaal, who gives a career best performance, Lou is the key to writer-director Dan Gilroy's descent into the heart of darkness of the modern media age, a crisp L.A. noir that mirrors the empty, haunted streets of the city and Hans Zimmer's unsettling score with the spiritual depletion eating away at its protagonist.

The picture follows the main character, a loner perpetually perched on the edge of madness, as he forces his way into the profession that is to become his calling: freelance video journalism, chasing down crime scenes across the city at night and hawking the footage to a news station fronted by Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a veteran desperate to stay relevant in an ever-changing business.

"Nightcrawler" is a high-concept endeavor that reflects the uneasy symbiosis between news organizations and their audiences; it takes the notion of the former serving the interests of the latter, throwing red meat at the public at the expense of real news, to a logical extreme.

It's a clever movie that's not in love with its cleverness; Gilroy gives Gyllenhaal space to create an unforgettable character, a man who will do anything for the perfect shot.

Rife with beautiful, digital images of the city bathed in blackness save for the ethereal glow of street lamps, or the dust floating in beams of light, the film embodies the dark night of the main character's soul as well as our own.