Jake Gyllenhaal and director Dan Gilroy at Venice Beach
USA (117 mi) 2014 ‘Scope d: Dan Gilroy Official site
If it bleeds, it leads. —Joe Loder (Bill Paxton)
Like Christian Bale in THE MACHINEST (2004), Jake Gyllenhaal lost about 20 pounds for the role, never looking emaciated, but creating a significant enough change that he simply looks odd and peculiar, creating one of the creepier characters to inhabit the screen of late. While he’s no Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver (1976), he does play a reclusive sociopath prowling the streets of Los Angeles in the middle of the night. Meet Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), always seen with a subtle facial tic to go along with that persistent grin that supposedly sets others at ease, yet this man is as uncomfortable in his skin as is humanly possible, where he slinks around with the mannerisms of an extraterrestrial creature inhabiting an earthly life form, almost always hiding some sinister purpose that he spends his entire life hiding. With no backstory whatsoever, we are introduced to this character as he breaks into a chain-locked construction site salvaging what scrap iron he can find, cold cocking an inquiring security guard and taking his watch after professing his innocence, claiming the gate was open and he got lost. With this, we know we are dealing with someone who has no problem crossing the moral boundaries, whose criminal inclinations come natural, which he routinely covers up with lies. While negotiating a price for his stolen wares, he asks for a job at the scrap yard, but the boss indicates he makes it his policy not to hire thieves. While driving home, he passes an accident site where emergency personnel are working frantically to free a woman trapped in the wreckage of an auto collision, where he discovers Joe (Bill Paxton), an amateur cameraman filming the entire scene, claiming he sells his footage to local TV news shows. Trading a stolen bike for a cheap camcorder and radio scanner, Lou invents a new career for himself overnight, scampering to the sites of accidents, where arriving early offers him a foot up on the competition.
Initially when he tries to sell some footage to a late night news director with failing ratings, Nina (Rene Russo, the director’s wife), she indicates she already has that footage, but Lou insists he was closer to the bleeding victim, with a better angle, which suddenly draws her attention, where she agrees to buy his material so long as he sells it exclusively to her station. Her stated policy is exposing crime only in the upscale neighborhoods that are not normally associated with crime, which makes it a story, while feeding the public constant images of horrific accidents, each one more gruesome than the last, as the public can never get enough of this kind of carnage in their neighborhoods. While this is a distorted viewpoint that is undeniably disturbing and unapologetically cynical, this kind of skewed vision is what passes for journalism today, where stories are no longer developed by beat reporters showing initiative and hard work, or drawn out by subsequent follow-up interviews, as instead they cater to an audience with short attention spans, becoming a business of providing ghastly images that the public devours whole. His late night escapades lead to a series of scoops, trading in his beat-up car for a racy fire-red Dodge Charger with more sophisticated equipment, where the GPS is hooked up to his police scanner through a computer touchscreen, creating instant directions to wherever he wants to go. With this, he hires the first person available to work for nothing, homeless intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), claiming this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop skills that will further his career in the news business, helping to operate a second camera while navigating the route. Rick is just an ordinary average Joe, the kind of guy looking to make a buck as he’s down on hard times, where eventually he’s promised $30 bucks a night, where Lou continually promises him advancement within the company if he does well.
This is a job that literally flirts with disaster, as Lou is so over the edge that his deranged reality isn’t really close to that of anybody else, where he’s willing to go light years beyond what would be considered questionable moral judgment, where in one accident, arriving ahead of the police, he actually moves the dead body for a more dramatic shot, staging the footage much like the news programs stage the news. In Nina, he has the direct descendent of Faye Dunaway’s manic ambition for ratings in Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), someone so desperate that she’s willing to deal with a bottom feeder like Lou, looking the other way when it comes to ethics, as getting what she wants in order to further her own career is all she cares about. Rivaling even Billy Wilder’s ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) as the most cynical movie ever made, Lou is so hell-bent on getting his footage on TV by any means necessary, while establishing a name for himself and his business, which means taking creative license whenever the opportunity presents itself. When he arrives at a home invasion ahead of the police, he actually witnesses and films the burglars coming out of the home, driving away in their van, complete with an image of their license plate. But if that wasn’t enough, he then enters the home with his camera leading, where there are multiple casualties on the ground lying in a pool of their own blood, where he literally canvases the entire house before making his getaway, all prior to anyone else arriving on the scene. This footage catches the attention of homicide detectives who would like to know how he obtained such raw material shot at the scene of a crime before officers arrived. While it’s, of course, blatantly illegal, he falls within a gray area of the law by claiming he intended to help or rescue any surviving victims. Curiously, one was still alive when he arrived, something he carefully edited out of his footage (which is demanded by the police), but he was dead by the time others arrived. Lou skillfully manipulates his way around the police, who see right through his shoddy story, but they have no countering evidence to arrest him. Taking the law into his own hands, Lou withholds the information about seeing the killers and instead orchestrates the arrest in a public place where he will have the exclusive footage of what transpires. While this is a nightmarish vision of a gloomy and hopeless world, deluded beyond recognition, it’s not without heavy doses of dark humor, where the bleak and exaggerated style by Dan Gilroy (brother to Tony, writer of three of the Bourne series, director of one) invites its own criticism for simply being too preposterous, veering into the SIN CITY (2005) neo-noir moral void of underground comic books.