Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best when he's at his weirdest, which is why his role in Nightcrawler is one of his greatest to date.
He plays Louis Bloom, a thief and self-help book devotee who discovers that he can make a lot of money, and have a lot of fun, as a video vulture.
If there's a terrible accident or a horrible crime, Bloom speeds to the scene in his flashy sports car and records the mayhem.
He then sells the footage to a trashy TV news programme.
The fact that Bloom is clearly a sociopath is a big advantage in this line of work.
He has no sympathy for the poor souls he's taping and he'll do anything to get the perfect shot, from sneaking into a murder scene to moving a dead body or orchestrating a bloody shoot-out.
Bloom is a terrible man.
And Gyllenhaal loves him.
"I don't like to call him a sociopath,' the 33-year-old US actor said in a recent interview with The Guardian.
"The reason he doesn't become unwatchable is because there's this great innocence to him.
"He's almost from another time.
"Deeply polite. In a very dangerous way. Like, take a Brit and times 50."
Gyllenhaal goes so far as to claim that Bloom is "the superhero of a generation".
He kind of has a point.
MODELLED AFTER COYOTE
In the hands of a less talented and idiosyncratic actor, Bloom would just be another garden-variety creep.
With Gyllenhaal playing the character, he does indeed rise to the level of a cultural mascot.
Gyllenhaal modelled Bloom after a coyote, and his physical transformation is nothing less than stunning.
"I was running through Griffith Park all the time," he said in an interview with The Huffington Post, "like 8 to 15 miles a day, and picturing myself as a coyote with all the other coyotes.
"And then my face just changed. I don't think I was even aware until a few months ago, when we were going through all the cuts."
With all that running, Gyllenhaal also famously lost 14kg.
He's basically an oddball who loves playing oddballs, and he's had a lot of practice at it.
Early in his career, he made some wonderfully bizarre movies such as Bubble Boy (2001), Highway (2002) and, of course, the unforgettable cult flick Donnie Darko (2001).
There were a couple of times when it seemed that he might finally sell out with action blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow (2005) and The Prince Of Persia (2010) and romantic weepie Love & Other Drugs (2010), but he always ended up going back to the dark stuff.
He probably hasn't made as much money as he might have, but he's built up an enviable filmography with films such as Brokeback Mountain (2005), Zodiac (2007), Source Code (2011), End Of Watch (2012) and Prisoners (2013).
None of these is as loopy as Bubble Boy, but they're all films of great texture and complexity.
Almost all his characters in these superb movies wrestle with demons and have closets stuffed with skeletons.
Of course, venturing into the shadows exacts a certain price, and sometimes the nastiness of playing a character such as Bloom will leak into Gyllenhaal's dreams.
"I always have nightmares," he told Variety, before clarifying that he doesn't really believe in nightmares per se.
"I don't believe the things that scare us are in our dreams. I think they are us communicating with ourselves.
"Even if I'm scared, I think they are helpful sometimes.
"You wake up and you say, 'I know who I am'."
This article was first published on December 3, 2014.
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