(2014) Thriller (Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Rick Chambers, Holly Hannula, Michael Papajohn, Marco Rodriguez, Ann Cusack, Kent Shockneck, Pat Harvey, Sharon Tay, James Huang, Bill Seward, Leah Fredkin, Jonny Coyne, Nick Chacon, Kevin Dunigan, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Carolyn Gilroy, Kevin Rahm, Christina de Leon. Directed by Dan Gilroy
The local news has its back to the wall these days. Even though it continues to be a main source of news for most people, it has become, like the newspaper before it, largely expendable in the face of the internet. With people wanting the news in a more immediate manner these days, news directors have their hands full trying to get footage that will draw viewers in. It has become more economically feasible for them to rely increasingly on third party news gathering agencies, who follow police scanner radio calls to the more lurid types of stories to satisfy the hunger for misery, bloodshed and death.
Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a man who’s been hit hard by the economic downturn. Scrounging around for scrap metal to sell to a construction site, he isn’t above stealing – and if need be, taking down a night watchman (Papajohn). He even hits up the construction site manager (Rodriguez) for a job, but who would want to hire a thief? Disappointed, Louis heads on home but on the way there comes upon an accident. He also runs into one of those third party news gathering agencies, led by Joe Loder (Paxton) who explains that he doesn’t work for a specific television station but instead sells to the highest bidder. He doesn’t make a ton per story but it’s a lot more than Louis is used to. Intrigued, Louis gets himself a camcorder and a police scanner.
His baptism by fire comes at a shooting; he manages to get the site shut down by the cops when he crosses the line, incurring Loder’s disgust. Still, he has a good eye and that catches the eye of Nina Romina (Russo), the news director at KWLA, the last place station in local news in the City of Angels. He makes a sale and gets some good advice. Encouraged, he hires a navigator (Ahmed) and soon is making regular sales.
Louis however doesn’t exactly have a moral compass and he continues to increasingly take chances – pulling bodies away from where they had been so he can get better light. However, when he arrives at a home invasion ahead of the police, he leaves the line far in the dust, putting himself and his partner at risk and perhaps other innocent people as well. Louis is doing what he loves and doing it well, but who will pay the price?
Gyllenhaal is the focal point of the film and he takes it as far as I think it is possible to. He lost 20-30 pounds for the role (depending on which source you believe) and his gaunt, hollow eyed look and dead-eyed stare is unsettling. Louis can be charming with a quick smile and communicating in aphorisms that might have come off of those encouraging business posters – “Success comes to those who work their ass off,” “In order to win the lottery you have to afford to buy the ticket” and so on in that vein. But those aphorisms betray that there is nothing of substance within him. He’s a hard worker sure, but he’s completely amoral and the ends definitely justify the means and heaven help you if you get in his way. In short, he’s a sociopath. This is definitely one of Gyllenhaal’s best performances to date and there is plenty of Oscar buzz surrounding him right now.
Juxtaposed with the reptilian Louis is Rene Russo’s Nina. She’s smart, hard-nosed and has been around the block in the L.A. news wars. She’s been ground down and made cynical and even though she has a soft spot for Louis, whom she sees talent in, she also soon comes to realize that he’s a monster of her own making, who isn’t above using any means necessary to get what he wants. Russo, who was one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses back in the day, hasn’t had a role this juicy in years, even though she got to kick ass in Thor: The Dark World last year.
Using cinematographer Robert Elswit, first-time director Gilroy paints a lurid Los Angeles by night that is seductive, dangerous and seedy all at once. The urban sprawl is a city of lights by night that while not as charming as Paris has a beauty all its own. Elswit clearly has an affection for the city because it looks so amazing in his eye. I lived there for more than a decade and always had a soft spot for L.A. by night.
Other than Rick, Louis’ long-suffering assistant slash partner slash navigator, there aren’t very many nice people in this movie. As detailed before, Louis is not a nice person at all and he gets less nice as the movie goes on. It is a tribute to Gyllenhaal that we still root for him anyway. Days after seeing the movie, I felt a genuine moment of revulsion when I realized that I had been rooting for the character to get out of the house where a multiple murder had taken place before the cops got there; how sick is that, I wondered to myself. If it had been just a guy and not Jake Gyllenhaal, I would have been hoping the bastard got arrested.
That’s not the way the world works here, and such cynicism might not fly right with everybody. There is a dark world view here, where the masses are ravening for blood and don’t care how they get it, whereas parasitical videographers flit from tragedy to tragedy trying to get enough footage to sate the bloodlust of the masses. Nobody seems to care much about the truth or informing people about what they need to know. It is at the very least a sad commentary on how far our respect for news gatherers has fallen.
REASONS TO GO: One of Gyllenhaal’s most intense performances ever. Gritty and gut-churning.
REASONS TO STAY: Exaggerates the “if it bleeds it leads” concept.
FAMILY VALUES: Expect plenty of violence, some bloody images and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gyllenhaal blinks only three times during the entire film. He also memorized the script as if it were a stage play.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/9/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: L.A. Confidential
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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