Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is not a nice guy. We first meet him being caught by a night watchman stealing some construction supplies from job site, but Bloom’s calm, smiling demeanor, and his lies about just being lost, causes the night 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 in past the paramedics, angling for a better shot. By following the guy back to his car, and overhearing his cell phone conversation, Louis overhears him negotiating a price for his raw footage, and then Louis sees it on his television that evening. Louis is completely fascinated, and wants to be doing what that person 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 L.A. 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 for “breaking news.” What she doesn’t realize is that he’s hooking her in, too, because as Louis upgrades his equipment and hires an assistant from the street (whom he lectures on business acumen as if he’s CEO of a big company) 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. He even bargains for a piece of her, and thankfully, we don’t have to see that, because it probably wouldn’t be pretty or loving. Nothing about Louis Bloom’s life is.
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. Another time he captures two men leaving a home invasion where they have brutally murdered the house’s occupants, and Bloom brazenly walks in the house and films the carnage and the bodies, except one of them isn’t even dead yet, but Bloom doesn’t help, or touch anything. 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, then calls the police to tell them where the suspects are. He hopes for a shootout, and gets one, followed by a violent car chase, which he determinedly follows in his souped-up vehicle, 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 side swipe 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. And that would affect a lot of people.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas