The great John Ford once advised that there was only one essential rule to observe when shooting a movie – just keep the camera focused on the actors’ eyes. Never was that edict put to better practice than in Dan Gilroy’s dark and disturbing study of TV journalism and the macabre dance of death that it plays with its willing audience.
The eyes belong to Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), and they are at once sociopathic and needy, scheming and confiding – as the creepiest character that we’ve encountered on the screen all year, Gyllenhaal delivers an extraordinary performance.
We first meet Bloom stealing scrap metal from an industrial site. He’s a loner, an opportunist with no employable skills other than a resilient nature. When he encounters a ‘stringer’ capturing on tape the aftermath of a car accident, Bloom decides that he might fit into the niche of freelance crime coverage.
His detached and obsessive personality are perfectly suited to the task and, in Nina Romino (Rene Russo), the jaded news director at a low-rating Los Angeles television network, he finds a similarly results-driven associate.
The eyes also belong to us, the demanding consumers of the 24/7 news cycle. As voyeurs of the sensational, we feign shock/horror at graphic depictions of atrocities and their aftermath, but the ratings tell another story and Gilroy’s movie exposes a discomfiting truth by laying bare the callous negotiations and values that the commodification of the nightly news has made commonplace (there were more fatalities at one scene than another, but ‘they were only Mexicans’).
As a sort of Norman Bates with a video camera, Bloom excels at his task. He eliminates his opposition by whatever means necessary and, as an ambitious go-getter, employs an off-sider. Bloom eventually moves beyond being a mere ‘ambulance chaser’ to becoming an active participant in the game.
It’s chilling, it’s confronting, but before we lament too loudly the way in which society is desensitised by the media, we must first admit that we are all complicit in it.
~ John Campbell