Jake Gyllenhaal lost nearly 30 pounds for his leading role in Nightcrawler, and the result is terrifying. His eyeballs are massive like they’re about to pop out of his skull. His cheekbones are sharp enough to cut a man, and his entire face looks as though it is being pulled down towards the underworld (Read our interview with Jake Gyllenhaal, who spoke of the transformation and more, here).

Nightcrawler is the directing debut from Dan Gilroy, who has written screenplays for several Hollywood pictures including The Bourne Legacy and a story credit for Real Steel. The film centers around Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a skeevy but cunning thief, as he rises to power in his new field of crime journalism. Bloom’s job involves arriving early at crime scenes in order to shoot video of the gore and violence, with the ultimate goal to sell footage to news stations. It’s basically a violence-based paparazzi type of gig. Lou follows one rule that was given to him by the local news network: if it bleeds, it leads.

But Bloom isn’t a regular cameraman. His personality is obsessive, his conversations inhuman, and his methods pure genius. His movements and actions are carefully planned, and he knows how to manipulate everyone around him. His human interactions are lacking true emotion. Lou Bloom simply cares about doing his job well.

As a directing debut, I am blown away by Gilroy’s work here. Right off the bat when the movie begins, we are granted some of the most stunningly gorgeous shots of L.A. that I’ve seen. Robert Elswit (who regularly works with Paul Thomas Anderson) shoots iconic locations in L.A. like Venice Beach and Santa Monica Boulevard with sleek minimalist style. Cross streets and intersections seem deliberately chosen in an effort to force the viewer to point out and scream, “I know that street!” Elswit shot Nightcrawler both digitally and on film.

The real show here lies within Gyllenhaal’s performance…(primarily due to the weight loss), Gyllenhaal disappears and all we are left with is Lou Bloom, who is wild eyed and a complete lunatic.

Rene Russo (also Gilroy’s wife) plays Nina, the maniacal and shameless boss that graciously accepts Lou’s graphic videotapes in order to receive higher ratings on the network. Russo truly shines here as Bloom’s strangely masculine teammate. In ways, Nina is very similar to Bloom, in that she knows she has to do unpleasant things to get what she wants.

The real show here lies within Gyllenhaal’s performance. Now, Jake has been fantastic in films like Zodiac, Enemy, and Prisoners,  but he’s always still the ruggedly handsome Jake Gyllenhaal when you freeze the frame. But here in Nightcrawler (primarily due to the weight loss), Gyllenhaal disappears and all we are left with is Lou Bloom, who is wild-eyed and a complete lunatic. What Gilroy and Gyllenhaal have created here is a truly captivating character to watch on the screen. There isn’t a single film lover out there who won’t be completely enamored with Lou Bloom’s slow descent into darkness.

Nightcrawler is a remarkable debut from first-time director Dan Gilroy. While the film’s media satire trumps David Fincher’s Gone Girl with ease, this picture is all about Jake Gyllenhaal and his opportunity to disappear for once. It’s a stylish L.A. Taxi Driver with a hint of 80’s detective drama. Nightcrawler is the only film of 2014 that caused me to sit in the theater with a dumb grin on my face for two hours straight. It’s my favorite of the year, with its only possible rival (perhaps) being Inherent Vice.

Nightcrawler is in theaters this Friday.