Beware of the Media Leeches

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

K72A3451d.tif“If it bleeds, it leads.” That’s one quote that I’m sure many people can use to describe today’s news culture.

Viewers’ appetite for stories involving death have disturbing implications as to where their interests are in the scope of current events. Whether the story is focusing on a horrific car accident or a deadly home invasion, one thing that can be guessed is that many viewers won’t touch their remotes until such a story finishes on the news.

What is it with cameras becoming best friends with bloodshed?

Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut with the broadcast-news thriller, “Nightcrawler,” in which he travels into the dark world of video journalism and brings us close to the uncomfortable invasiveness of certain on-site correspondents.

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives in Los Angeles, and is in desperate need of a job. After some failed attempts to earn money, he eventually emerges into the field of video reporting. Equipped with a camcorder and radio scanner, Bloom tries to make his way to as many LA crime/accident scenes as possible. As he begins selling his stories to a local news station, Bloom becomes increasingly determined to impress his employers, and will do anything to beat his competitors to a story.

Jake Gyllenhaal has always been a highly gifted actor, but he has had an especially notable run as of late, between his supporting gig in “Prisoners” a year ago, his lead role in “Enemy” back in the spring, and now his role as Louis Bloom. Between these three movies, you can say that Gyllenhaal has experienced a superb period of thrillers, and with “Nightcrawler,” his character is easily the least likable of his more recent roles, however, it’s a performance that’s endlessly fascinating to watch.

We first see him as someone who’s rather strange, and maybe a bit socially inept, and it doesn’t seem like he has much interaction with the outside world. As he starts to record his stories, it’s amazing to see Gyllenhaal command the transition of his character, rapidly going from a newbie with a camera to an accomplished videographer, having tapped into a somewhat perverse talent he never knew he possessed. Even when he first establishes his production business with his one and only employee, Rick (Riz Ahmed), his role as a boss who knows what he wants shows how much he intends to strive for the big leagues.

Rene Russo turns in a vigorous performance as Nina, the tough morning-news director whom Bloom works for. Just like Bloom, she wants “something people can’t turn away from.” The ruthlessness of her character is displayed in her insatiable hunger for news that will boost her show’s ratings, and her morals and ethics as a journalist are every bit as questionable and twisted as Bloom’s.

The scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo burn with tension as he tries to use their professional relationship to become more than what he started out as. There’s a scene in the film when the two are in the news station, and Bloom delivers a monologue where he tells Nina what he demands for his continued work with the station. It’s a real moment of character growth, all caught in one take, that allows us to deeply focus on him and absorb his every word.

The screenplay by Dan Gilroy could have used a little more subtly in its message, but it’s still a very interesting critique on current video journalism. It doesn’t hold back in showing how far some reporters will go to get the story they want, even if it means withholding information to make the story fit their intentions.

Seeing as Gyllenhaal’s character is always chasing stories, it would make sense to worry that the film would become repetitive, but this is certainly not the case. With each crime/accident scene he barges in on, we learn more about how far Bloom will go to advance his career.

“Nightcrawler” will make you think about what goes on behind the scenes in video journalism, and it may even change the way you watch the news.

Final grade: A-