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USA 2014
Directed by
Dan Gilroy
117 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars


Synopsis: Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a self-motivated, ambitious, out-of-work hustler who stumbles across the shady after-hours world of freelance video crime journalism. Determined to make a name for himself, he scams a second hand video camera and convinces Nina (Rene Russo) a veteran News Director for a bottom-rung Los Angeles TV Station to take him on as a stringer. With the assistance of Rick (Riz Ahmed) his homeless, hapless offsider and a totally unscrupulous approach to news gathering, he starts to use his leverage with Nina to build his cache within the television newsroom.
When we meet Louis Bloom he’s just been caught by a security guard stealing copper wire for scrap. A moment later he’s bartering the price with a scrap dealer. He’s also wearing the security guard’s very expensive watch.  It’s a neat bit of screenplay and sets this character up perfectly. When Bloom presses the scrap dealer to give him a job, the response is ‘Why would I hire a thief?’ Bloom thinks his reasoning is fair enough and we warm a little to his good natured smile. Later, though, when he deliberately re-positions the body of a car crash victim to get a better shot, the sociopathic tendencies behind that charming smile are revealed to us and we get close to understanding what a monster this character could be.

This is the kind of role that Gyllenhaal eats up, playing it from somewhere deep inside. His Bloom has the same self-assuredness, sinister charm and coiled menace as Eric Roberts’ equally disturbing turn as Paul Snider in Bob Fosse’s Star 80 with a touch of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. What’s interesting about this character, though, is that we get next to no back story. What we see is what we get which, in lesser hands, might have felt shallow and underdeveloped, but here it’s like encountering a disquieting character on the street; it’s hard to put your finger on why they unsettle you – they just do, and that’s all you need.

This is director, Dan Gilroy’s first feature but from the film’s self assuredness and confidence, you’d never know it. Gilroy’s previous feature work has been as a screenwriter most recently with his brother Tony Gilroy on The Bourne Legacy. Thankfully, this is a much better film, although some of the driven, egocentric determination of that film’s Aaron Cross has leeched into Louis Bloom, but to much greater effect.

The portrayal of the seedy after-hours LA crime-world is beautifully rendered by Robert Elswit’s cinematography and Gyllenhaal’s magnetic performance is well supported especially by Ahmed’s vulnerable, naive and overly trusting Rick. Russo (the director’s wife) gives Nina a sad and needy desperation thinly veiled behind a veneer of no-nonsense professionalism.  Even Bill Paxton rises above his usual cartoonish style of acting in a small role as the more seasoned freelancer whom Bloom sees as both role model and competitor.

For me, there are tonal inconsistencies in this film that prevent it from fully embracing the darkness of this underworld, the opportunism of the freelancers and the amoral cynicism of the newsroom. All these things are there, but they’re undercut by the more comical nature of Bloom; he talks like he’s regurgitating the contents of a bundle of self-help and how-to-succeed books (in fact he boasts of the number of on-line courses he’s taken) and his conversations with Rick as they drive from one gruesome event to the next raise more than a chuckle on occasions. Yet, the noirish thriller elements are still there in spades (excuse the pun, Hammett fans) and the sheer atrocity of Bloom’s relentless pursuit of some kind of success is compelling.

As the credits roll on this film, it was hard not to ponder that Showtime or HBO wouldn’t be thinking that there’s a potentially great television series in this story and that Louis Bloom could easily be the next Dexter.




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