Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a semi-psychotic loner and scrap metal thief who encounters a freeway car accident while driving home one night. He notices a roving video crew ("Nightcrawlers") taking footage of the wreckage, victims and their rescue and decides to try to earn a living as a nightcrawler.
He hires a simpleton named Rick (Riz Ahmed) and the two of them have some success videotaping accidents and murder scenes and selling the video to morning news anchor Nina Romina (Rene' Russo).
Rival nightcrawler Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) beats Louis to the scene of a small plane crash, so an infuriated Louis sabotages Loder's video van. When Loder's van crashes, Louis is there to film the aftermath.
After Louis videotapes the scene of a home invasion and multiple homicide, he sells the footage to Nina (with the identities of the killers and their SUV excised) and then threatens to stop bringing her news unless she agrees to his sexual demands. Louis then finds the SUV that the murderers were driving and follows them to a Chinese restaurant. Louis phones the police and he and Rick set up to record the confrontation, despite Rick's strong objections.
A wild gun battle and police chase ensues, with Rick recording the entire chase while Louis drives. When the SUV containing the surviving perpetrator wrecks, Louis sends Rick to video the driver's corpse. But the driver is still alive and shoots Rick before being killed by police.
Louis records Rick's death. As Rick is dying, Louis calmly tells him that his death was necessary because his reluctance to do what needed to be done would jeopardize the business. The police suspect that Louis set up the entire confrontation and Rick's death, but have no proof.
Louis sells the footage to a grateful Nina and with the proceeds, purchases two new vans and recruits three interns to prowl the night looking for news.
Thanks Evil Ed!