Did you know there is actually a level of “journalism” lower than celebrity-driven paparazzi? It is the people who listen to police scanners all day and night, ready to hurry to the locations of fires (preferably fires where children get killed), car wrecks (ditto), and shootings. And, it must be said, the people at the news stations who buy this shit so they can grab your attention at six and eleven are just as low. “If it bleeds, it leads” is an expression that has been around a long time now.
Local news. Gotta love it.
Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a truly scary portrait of a sociopath who finds the perfect niche for himself, with a camera on his shoulder. He starts out as a two-bit hustler eking out a living selling stolen metals like copper, steel, and even cyclone fencing … giving a whole new meaning to the word “fencing,” I guess. Then he stumbles on a car wreck and the free-lance news crew who has just filmed the cops extracting a bloody woman from her burning car. He learns that you can sell footage like that to a TV station, for maybe three or four hundred dollars. And his life changes.
Soon he is roaming the night in his POS hooptie, cheap video camera in hand, learning the ropes. It is tough at first, but he is a fast learner. He hires a desperate young man to be his navigator, at first with no pay. “You’re an intern!” Finally he gives the poor schmuck $30 per night. Before long he is tooling around the meaner streets of Los Angeles in a bright red Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, with state-of-the-art video equipment.
Jake has no scruples, which is a job requirement, but he goes way beyond what the competition has done. He develops a relationship with Rene Russo (who, at 60, is still looking good), a producer at KWLA (which is actually KTLA on Sunset, with one letter changed), and keeps bringing her more and more spectacular stuff. But he wants her, too. He approaches her like he does everything else, as a business deal. She is naturally wary, because even she can see he’s crazy … but he’s on his way up …
Then he happens on the scoop of all time. Arriving at a swanky house before the police do, he listens to gunshots from inside, films two men hurrying outside. He enters the house and films three bloody people, one of them still alive. He goes back to the station to cut a real good deal for himself. And he is just getting started. His next caper makes even this one seem sane and reasonable …
This is described as a satire, and I suppose it is, as we have not yet reached the point where the worst of this blood and gore that Jake brings in would actually be run on the news. But we’re not far from it. “This film may be disturbing to some viewers.” I wonder if anyone has ever switched channels because of that warning? If so, they are far, far outnumbered by the ones who lean a little closer to the TV. (Including myself. I’m not being holier than thou here. If there’s graphic footage, I’ll watch it. It’s not a guilty pleasure, but it’s a guilty something.)
What sets this film apart from so many others is Jake. He is so up front about his creepiness. He continually spouts his business and inter-personal principles, which are a sort of combination of Dale Carnegie and Donald Trump, with maybe a little Ayn Rand thrown in. And it works for him! He ascends steadily, because there is literally nothing he won’t do to get the story.
So, does it all work out for him in the end, or does he make a mistake and get what’s really coming to him, in a just universe? I won’t tell.