Six years after its release, I finally got to see this American drama starring Jake Gyllenhall. And I am glad I did.
Set in Los Angeles, the film reeks of sleaze, and feels like a modern ‘noir’ in every way possible. Filmed mostly at night, as you would expect from the title, it is about the cutthroat world of sensational TV news, and how the different News channels compete to buy the most disturbing and graphic film clips from the teams of cameramen who roam the streets listening to police scanner radios. The clips are then shown on the morning news, in the hope of grabbing the biggest slice of the early ratings.
We start by seeing that Louis Bloom (Gyllenhall) is little more than a petty criminal. He drives a nondescript car, and makes a living stealing things like wire fencing and manhole covers, which he then sells to scrap dealers for cash. He lives in a seedy apartment, and is very much a loner. So the scene is set for what follows.
On his way home one night, Lou happens across a serious car accident, with a woman trapped in a burning car. A news crew arrives, but they do not help the woman. Instead, they film the drama as police arrive to render aid. An interested Lou asks the camerman, Joe Loder, (the reliable Bill Paxton) for a job, but is laughed at. Undaunted, he steals an expensive cycle the next day, and exchanges it for a video camera and police scanner in a pawn shop. That night, he sets out with the intention of being a news cameraman, learning the hard way that he has to get in first, to get the best shots.
Lou is not a likeable man. He is obsessive, intense, driven, and quite scary too. Gyllenhall captures him perfectly, with that sense of something smouldering away under the surface that might explode into violence at any time. He is calculating, cunning, and as I mentioned above, sleazy.
After bending the rules to get a couple of scoops, he comes to the attention of harassed News Team manager Nina, at a second rate, struggling TV station. (The perfect casting of Rene Russo, on top form) She is clinging on to her job, just, and needs gory news reports to show management that she can deliver. Very soon, she has a relationship with Lou that is as worrying as it is successful. Lou hires an assistant, buys a professional camera, and gets a better car. He is on the up, and negotiating hard for the first-on-scene footage that only he can supply. He has more run-ins with Joe Loder, and deals with him in a very unconventional manner.
As the ratings war intensifies, Lou no longer bends rules, he breaks them. With the TV station now more or less totally dependent on him, he exceeds all boundaries of decency, and manages to even get involved in the events themselves. He is now creating news, as well as reporting on it. Nina is trapped in circle of being disgusted by him, yet addicted to the success their association can bring.
This is a film with no real winners or losers. Despite some car-chase sequences, and the occasional burst of action, it is a film about how low someone will go in search of success, and how they will drag the others down with them. Russo and Gyllenhall are just wonderful to watch on screen, and every supporting actor steps up in even the smallest role.
I thought it was excellent, as you can tell.
Here’s a trailer.