Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is not a nice guy. We first meet him being caught by a night watchman stealing some construction supplies from the job site, but Bloom’s calm, smiling demeanor and his lies about just being lost causes the watchman to let his guard down… and next thing we know Louis is driving off with the guy’s watch. And wears it the rest of the movie.
Louis Bloom’s life changes when he stumbles on an accident scene and watches a guy with a camera push his way past the paramedics, angling for a better shot. By following the guy back to his car and eavesdropping on his cell phone conversation, Louis overhears him negotiating a price for his raw footage. Then, Louis sees it on his television that evening. Louis is completely fascinated and wants to be doing what that man does. He’s just brazen enough to persist in nosing in when people are yelling at him to go away. And he’s just street-wise enough to be a hard negotiator for his stolen camera shots. And he knows how to put on a non-threatening persona when he’s dealing with angry, bereaved or traumatized people. And he finds success immediately.
He also finds Nina (Rene Russo), the hard-edged, old-enough-to-be-a-little-desperate news director of the “vampire shift” in the lowest-rated television station in the Los Angeles market. She buys the first camera shots he brings in, cuts him a check immediately and Louis is hooked. She tells him he has an eye for this and to keep bringing her more shots. What she doesn’t realize is that he’s hooking her in, too, because as Louis upgrades his equipment, hires an assistant from the street and becomes a police-scanner junkie, Nina becomes more and more dependent on Louis Bloom, and he knows just how to use that for bargaining leverage.
Bloom begins to really push the boundaries when he finds himself arriving at a scene before the police do. One time he moved a car crash victim to get a better angle. Another time he sabotages a rival’s camera van. When he captures two men leaving a home invasion where they have brutally murdered the house’s occupants, Bloom brazenly walks in the house and films the carnage and the bodies – except one of them isn’t dead yet, but Bloom doesn’t help. He’s got his film. So he leaves.
Naturally, the police want to talk to him about that episode. But Bloom lies and bluffs his way through that one, then sets up the big score: following the “hit men” to a glass-fronted restaurant where he sets up a perfect place to film the action before calling the police to tell them where the suspects are. He hopes for a shootout – and gets one. It’s followed by a violent car chase, which he determinedly follows while shouting at his assistant to be sure to get the resultant wreck on film.
Yes, “Nightcrawler” raises the legal, ethical and moral issues of where people with cameras should be allowed to go (an ironic topic for professional filmmakers). Maybe it’s a sideswipe from Hollywood to all the paparazzi that they have to live with if they’re stars. But Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is creepily mesmerizing in this role, and the issues his behavior raises will flicker at the back of your consciousness whenever you watch the news on television.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.