It’s impossible to be anything than utterly mesmerised by this ghoulish satire of modern times. Lou Bloom is a petty criminal, driven to the limits of entrepreneurship to cobble together a living from scrap metal. One night, on his nocturnal rounds, he comes across a car smash and the ambulance-chasing crime ‘reporters’ filming the bloodied corpses in order to sell the footage for a few hundred bucks.
In a society where we all live in fear of outsiders invading our precious middle-class territories, such clips are fodder to the lowest-denominator media channels, desperate to been seen as the guardians of public safety and to win viewers, who prey on our prurient nature with such horror stories. Such is the world of citizen journalism and social media.
Soon creepy-crawly Lou has a basic movie camera and an exploited intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to guide him, using his phone as a sat nav. Jake Gyllenhaal with his slicked back, greasy hair and stooped skinny frame accentuating his wolverine oleaginousness (he lost 30lbs for the role) sends shivers down my spine.
Gilmore’s premise is that some people are so desperate to work that they are driven to anything to turn a buck. Lou is such a man – his motto is ‘if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy the ticket’ and, on this basis, he has soon wheedled his way into LA’s seediest TV station and the reluctant admiration of Nina (Rene Russo), the News Editor who needs ratings to keep her job.
Lou’s lack of morality and empathy – in fact he displays Asperger’s-like characteristics in his inability to listen to or understand other people – certainly help him get ahead. In another side-swipe at corporate America and all those wannabees, Lou’s language is self-help speak, gleaned from a business course he has done on-line – naturally. If Rick or Nina question his motives or attitude, he responds like an automaton, albeit a driven one: he wants to be ‘the guy that owns the station, that owns the cameras. The true price of success if what somebody’s willing to pay for it.’
There is no level too low for Lou to stoop in order to achieve his ambition to head up Video Production News. He has Nina over a barrel and, due to his single-minded perspective, he manages to control not only the perfect shot, but also his own destiny.
What is chilling to the bone is that this satire is enthralling in its repulsiveness. Lou is so repellent a character but you can’t stop watching him on a roll, hoping to God that he will get his just desserts. Gilroy, in his directorial debut, plays mind-games with us, on the one hand revealing the temptations of the devil, but brings us up sharp with the realisation that Lou is no Jesus, while on the other, sneakily, I feel, admiring his anti-hero’s devotion to the modern cut-throat approach to making it: the strap line of this film should be ‘good things come to those who work their asses off’.Of course all proper journalists – as opposed to amateur scribblers like me – are wallowing in the perfect satire of the state of today’s media. We hardly need reminding in the wake of the Leveson enquiry into phone-hacking and, despite all the tinkering with press regulation, I daresay it won’t be long before we have our own versions of Lou Bloom and his Video Production News at every fatal crime scene. In fact, I think with all the live programming of police and rescue units, we are there already. Be warned! And very afraid…