LOUIS BLOOM (Jake Gyllenhaal) likes to haggle. An autodidact and a two-bit thief, he turns every conversation into a negotiation. But while Bloom's always eager to show off his bargaining tactics, his inability to understand people remains a liability, keeping him at arm's length from a legitimate profession.

Then Bloom witnesses a car crash, and then he observes a cameraman selling footage of the bloody scene to a local news station. Soon Louis is out there with the other nightcrawlers, monitoring the police scanner and speeding to crime scenes to be the first one with sensational video.

The directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler is a pulpy rush that's shot to mirror the nocturnal, grainy world of these freelancers. Unblinking and gaunt, Gyllenhaal's Bloom is a fascinating misfit who discovers his strengths in this new, macabre calling. Soon he takes on an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and cultivates a working relationship with a news director (Rene Russo) that seeps into the bedroom.

Or does it? One of the things Gilroy tugs at is Bloom's unreliable perception—some scenes seem to play out in Bloom's imagination, while others are pointedly, painfully real. Nightcrawler's interested in the intersection of factual reporting and sensationalist infotainment, where parasitism and journalism duke it out. Gilroy stabs home the point that if something isn't caught on tape, it might as well not have happened. Before long, Bloom is framing and augmenting his footage to convey the most lurid version of events.

There are a couple of great set pieces, including a car chase with Bloom on the tail of a police cruiser that's after a perp. And Gyllenhaal, miles away from his days as a matinee idol, speaks his efficient, almost robotic lines with pitch-black comedic precision. Although the questions it raises aren't quite followed to their conclusions, Nightcrawler has the same effect as that grisly footage Bloom captures—you won't want to look away.