Originally written: November 4th 2014
A mesmerising dreamscape of Los Angeles crime journalism. Dan Gilroy quickly paints a seething underworld vision, through the urban night life in this dangerous city. A slow, and drawn out establishing sequence, combined with a gentle melody, utilising synthesiser drones and echoing guitar screeches to deliver a somewhat Lynchian style introduction to an even grittier film. Gilroy carefully foreshadows a bloody and lonely narrative by allowing us glimpses of a setting, in one of the most populated cities in the world, by emptying all shots of life and movement.
Meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) a methodical, business-minded college dropout, with an increasing sense of accomplishment, coupled with an obsessive drive to photograph emerging crime stories. After encountering Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), himself videoing two police officers rescuing a woman from a burning wreck, Bloom quickly gets a taste to progress in this peculiar art form. Loder’s own words, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ sets up Bloom’s ethos towards his newfound career for the rest of the film.
Offering a nice balance between the characters, Gilroy offsets Bloom with his loyal but apprehensive partner Rick (Riz Amhed), who dedicates his time to Bloom’s pursuits of the perfect story to expand his growing business. Getting steadily richer over the course of the narrative, and furthering an explicit American dream symbolism. Gilroy proceed farther afield, when Bloom crosses the line between observer and participant. Implanting not just ideas of capitalist venture, and sociopathic behaviour, Gilroy quickly paints a vision of everyday violence and it’s anesthetization through the coverage of media. It takes the removal of the veil to eventually perceive Bloom’s voyeuristic pleasure upon seeing these victims, which in turn reminds us of the ethics and legality of allowing these graphic images to be screened.
Gilroy has created his own little sin city. However, a large emphasis should be placed on the quantifier “little”. Apart from the moments of unfettered violence; to the point where Bloom is crafting his perfect crime scene for that perfect shot, this is not a film that boasts Snyder levels of ultraviolence. Instead, we get a subtle narrative. Carefully paced, to deliver peaks of intensity wrapped up in a warped protagonist’s desire to be the best video-journalist he can be; whilst remaining undercut by a sharp tongued Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Initially appearing professional, as a two-dimensional TV studio producer, quickly evolves into an enigma. Charged with an underlying sexual aggression, that seems to only be punctuated by Bloom’s character’s need to fulfil darker and darker news stories. The more drugs and murders that become unearthed fuels these two, in what can only be described as, pleasure and pain for two twisted Scopophilics. Epitomised in one clear two shot, as the two sadists look at each other, with a stormy lust, as Gilroy shrewdly places backlights with mauve filters to set the scene off into this ‘lust scene’ - appearing more pornographic and grimy than a Cronenberg movie.
To close: the one certainty that runs consistent, is the quality of Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting presence, and fantastic devotion to characterisation. Gyllenhaal devolves into the character with just the right balance of depressive malcontent and manipulative sociopath. Gilroy captures his grease sodden hair and slumped posture, puling us in like Keyser Soze, and what blossoms is a visceral treat that is offset twofold by crucial art design and lip-smacking cinematography.