Jake Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a petty thief in the Los Angeles dark whose shamelessness — specifically his lack of anything like a moral compass — becomes an enormous asset when he manages to get a foothold in the straight world. Pawning a fancy bicycle (was it stolen?) in exchange for a camcorder and a police scanner, he joins the ranks of the video shooters who prowl at night, angling for close-up footage of bloody meat on the city streets.
Sofia Coppola’s metier is the direction of seemingly unguarded moments — a girl lounges in pink sweatpants, a boy grins dorkily as he bounces up and down on a dance floor, teenagers play dress-up and go gun crazy — so the more this strained to be on point with its observations about stalker culture and celebrity status, the less I liked it. Still, as a snapshot of a world gone crazy circa A.D. 2013, its verisimilitude is mostly undeniable, and it’s still a bit invigorating when movie girls are allowed to have the kind of disreputable fun the movie boys have always taken for granted.
Coppola has plundered young Hollywood for talent — cinematographer Wally Pfister’s daughter Claire Julien is here, as is Vera Farmiga’s (much) younger sister Taissa and even the actress (Georgia Rock) who, at 7 years old, was chosen to be the vaguely creepy drummer girl in the motion-graphic logo for Mandate Pictures (you may have seen her in front of The Purge last week) — and the actors are all just about exactly as good as they need to be to keep the endeavor afloat. Emma Watson has obvious fun playing a Calabasas girl with Beverly Hills pretensions, and Coppola pulls off the pretty good balancing act of making her characters thoroughly despicable and yet not completely unlikable — the quick glare that crestfallen Israel Broussard shoots at a passing pair of pink pumps when the jig is finally up is kind of heartbreaking.
Comparisons to Spring Breakers are both unavoidable and legitimate, though it’s hard to measure a straightforward narrative film directly against Harmony Korine’s dreamier, more deliberately anhedonic work. In its portrayal of the short history of a tiny fallen empire, The Bling Ring is most evocative of Coppola’s own Marie Antoinette. Kirsten Dunst even drifts through one scene, a lovely ghost — and, for those of us who don’t even know who the hell Audrina Patridge is, a spectral reminder of how quickly and decisively youth culture moves forward.