I am more than a little mystified as to why this movie has as high a rating on IMDb as it does: 7.9/, when so few films break the 8/- barrier on users' votes. Myself, I would be hard-pressed to grant it even a 7/- despite it being well-made, photographed, and acted. The problem is that although the movie holds the viewer's attention, it is unrelentingly and irredeemably nasty, leaving a bitter taste by the film's end.
I can not agree as some argue that it is a scathing satire, since I suspect it is remarkably true to reality. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, an immoral petty thief anxious to make his mark in the world. His 'lightbulb' moment arrives when he sees news cameramen at a crash site, videoing all the gory details amongst the gawkers. It seems that there is a profitable television audience for such footage. So Louis hocks his racing bike ("I rode it to win the Tour of Mexico" he claims) in exchange for a video camera and a police-frequency short wave radio. Now armed he can join the horde of gore-seekers who trawl the night streets in search of the latest bit of sensational slaughter with which to titillate the public.
Bloom finds an eager ally in Rene Russo, the news editor for a second-tier local television channel who is willing to pay good money for the latest scoop. Now in her sixties, she's still well preserved, but there is something very creepy about Bloom's making sexual overtures in her direction. "I'm twice your age", she protests; and while this is not quite accurate, it could be, with Gyllenhaal playing younger than his actual age. For this role he has lost weight, leaving him looking sallow, wasted and totally untrustworthy.
As he becomes more successful in getting to crime scenes first, he becomes more and more megalomaniacal, starring as the hero in his own make-believe world. He's driven, money-hungry, and not adverse to breaking the law in pursuit of unpalatable footage. He's a latter-day Weegee, with no redeeming qualities. He even withholds information which would lead the police to a pair of murderers in the hope of being there to record their capture in a dramatically satisfying scenario. He is without morals, seeing himself as invincible, and happy to sacrifice his underpaid assistant, Riz Ahmed, among the slaughtered.
Ahmed, an ethnic British hip-hop artist and actor in minor crime flicks, has made a surprising break-out in the U.S. market, with recent roles in "Jason Bourne" and "Rogue One", as well as the well-received mini-series "The Night of". Here he plays Bloom's naïve, but willing sidekick, paid a pittance, but promised great things by his manipulative boss. His puppy-like character really throws a spotlight on just how despicable a human being Bloom's 'nightcrawler' is. There is no comeuppance!
It's the perfect title for this movie. Bloom, in his relentless manipulation of truth and decency, comes across as some sort of creepy-crawly worm or snake that one would be advised to crush under one's heel.