Jake Gyllenhaal has played a considerable variety of roles from charming rodeo groupie and paramour to Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain to his landmark role in Donnie Darko. He played double roles in Enemy. Most if not all of his roles have their own charm about them. There’s an earnest vitality about him which is appealing and very screen worthy. I begin with this proviso because there is almost nothing charming about Gyllenhaal in this film but that, in itself is the charm. Something weird went on in makeup making his eyebrows bulge and his eyes deep set and wide set. He has a creepy stare which makes watching him rather unsettling. Gyllenhaal apparently lost quite a bit of weight for the role which partly explains the hungry waif like poise of his character. He plays Lou Bloom, a loser, liar, thief, fake smiling, macabre unemployed wack job with probably no self-esteem but no fear of rejection. He falls somewhere begin “Shattered Glass’s” Hayden Christensen and “The Assassination of Richard Nixon’s” Sean Penn in being a fluent liar yet social outcast with not just a bit of “One Hour Photo”’s Robin Williams. He is dirty, slightly unshaven with slightly filthy hair.
Upon witnessing a fiery car accident, he stares unblinkingly as a freelance cameraman pulls up played by Bill Paxton and shoots footage alarmingly close to both victim and police officers. Having just been turned down for a job by a junkyard owner to whom he sold stolen goods, Bloom asks the cameraman for an internship and is turned down. Intrigued he sells a stolen mountain bike “with 37 gears that he won the Tour de Mexico on” to a pawn shop owner for a decent camera and a police scanner. It’s amusing seeing him inexpertly heading to scenes and awkwardly shoving his tiny camcorder in people’s faces. He adopts a neutral, pleasant tone which reminds me of Brent Spiner’s Data for some reason, as if Bloom too is endeavoring to be everyone’s idea of human but doesn’t exactly know what that is. The tripe he spouts with such earnest authority about goals and success is all paper-thin vapid nonsense.
He sells his first footage to no-nonsense editor Nina Romina played by Rene Russo whose taste for graphic leads to her stories fuels Lou’s. Galvanized by his first success, Bloom places an ad in the paper for an intern who arrives. The interview is a cringe-inducing piece of social horror. Lou has picked out a nice shirt, brushed and perhaps even washed his dirty hair and adopts what he apparently thought was a winning smile. Of course, he wants to hire the first guy to apply but he wants to appear successful. Riz Ahmed plays a shy and quietly desperate normal guy just looking for a job. Finally a regular guy whose normality shows the audience just how off the rails Lou really is. Seeing the bottom of the totem pole Lou and then the too big for his britches Lou the “boss” is an interesting revelation of his character. Like all small men, he aims to be great and confesses to Nina his goals in an awkward, wince-inducing speech. What a lonely, lonely guy. For some reason she indulges him while keeping her distance.
Lou certainly doesn’t keep his distance as he invades crime scenes, goes on a date with Nina in which he attempts to get her to like him using, blackmail, I guess. It’s another excruciating scene done so well. We feel as uncomfortable as she does as Lou closes in. It becomes clear, pressured by Nina and competition by Bill Paxton’s character that things will have to be scaled up a bit. So continues the tale of invasive reporting as Lou Bloom goes further and further down the rabbit hole. Concerned normal people glare bewildered from the sidelines. The sidelines are left behind as the stories worsen and conversely Lou’s wheels, camera, and apartment get scaled up. He uses them to great effect in a nail bitingly suspenseful 15 minutes which ends the third act. This is a creepy and delightful film and another wonderfully focused performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. This could have been a soppy, preachy thriller about American love for violence on the news and on internet video like in “Untraceable” but instead, the mere quantity of filmed violence draws us into Lou’s world and all of its unsettling messages about what sells in this world of ours.