I Am The Police

endofwatchmovieposterThe found footage style of film-making has largely been a mistake.  Few films that employ it do it well and more often than not, it hinders the narrative and annoys the audience.  Its shaky and unstable camera-work are a nuisance and the trite, contrived reasons given for its being filmed in the first place almost never work.  Rarely, though, we do see it used appropriately.  And the cool thing is, if used sparingly and done well, it really does accomplish what it’s supposed to – it makes it feel real.

Such is the case with End Of Watch, the 2012 police drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Brian Taylor and Miguel Zavala, respectively, two LAPD rookies who stumble into something too big to handle.  End Of Watch is mostly told via Taylor’s camera.  In addition to being a cop, Taylor is also a pre-law student and films his experiences while out on patrol as part of a project for one of his gen-ed classes.  It’s mostly told through Taylor’s camera (or cameras; in addition to his handheld, he pins one to his chest and one to his partner’s) but also intermittently through more conventional shots.  Writer/director David Ayer doesn’t limit himself to the found footage alone.  Ayer freely uses whichever best serves the narrative, interjecting broad views of the city into Taylor’s filmed sequences without explanation.  Or shots of one of the cops alone after work that are meant to look like the images of a handheld camera but there’s no logical answer to who’s holding it.  Ayer doesn’t bog himself down with these explanations because they aren’t relevant to his story.  He uses the found footage where applicable and provides his own shots when needed.  And the result it a gripping story so well-told, you forget you’re watching a movie.

The film’s pace adds to the realism as does the natural banter between Gyllenhaal and Pena.  Ayer doesn’t rush this story nor does he fill it with death-defying stunts or overly developed bad guys.  I know it sounds weird that I’m advocating an under-developed villain here but for a flick like this, it’s necessary.  This movie is entirely Taylor and Zavala’s story, the lives of these two cops, and in the real world, we don’t know every bit of background about the “bad guys.”  Honestly, cops sometimes get a rap sheet on the guy they’re chasing, if there is one, or maybe they’ve heard some rumors around the neighborhood about them, but they don’t have the guy’s life story with all its fucked-up details.  They know a few things – he has a gun, he’s in a gang, she’s on crack, they want to kill me.  This is what a cop typically knows when facing a criminal and nothing more.  Ayer gives us a few shots of the bad guys in action but very few, just as much as we need and not a minute more.  Because he doesn’t want us to be away from our main characters for too long.  We see this through their eyes.  The effect it creates is that we are Taylor and Zavala, we ride along on patrol, we watch as they find ways to entertain themselves (a cop’s life can be quite boring, at times), as they struggle to stay awake on an overnight shift, as they walk into the house of a missing elderly woman and know immediately that there’s a dead body inside, as they run into a burning house to rescue the small children trapped in their bedrooms, as they face dangers most of us cannot fathom.  We live it through them.

Ayer effectively orchestrates this realism but he also knows enough to get out of the way of his characters.  He epitomizes the idea that a story is best shown, not told.  Taylor and Zavala aren’t perfect nor do they always make the best choices.  Like every cop I know, they occasionally End of Watchoverflow with testosterone, with that invincible feeling that accompanies authority.  But they are human and they react to stress and danger like any flesh and blood person would.  And the bond between these two partners is expertly showcased in those quiet moments that follow a harrowing encounter.  Kudos to Ayer for not holding back.  It’s rare to see masculine tenderness like this onscreen.  After a traumatic and dangerous encounter during which, together, they pull three children from a burning house, Taylor is so shaken, he refuses to allow the fire fighters even to touch him.  But his partner, also shaken and hurt, cannot be pushed away.  He grabs onto his friend and literally cradles and rocks him until Taylor calms down, creating a moment so real, you almost feel intrusive for watching.

I can’t justify why End of Watch didn’t get more hype from the media.  I remember seeing the trailer, thinking it looked good but then didn’t hear much about it.  Now it’s available to rent or instantly stream on Netflix and it is well worth your time.  For all its realism, it still is a tense police drama, rife with action and violence, but with much more heart than we’re used to seeing from this genre.

~Nikki

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I Wish It Had Been Free…

30 Minutes or Less is a pitiful little disappointment of a film, one that I was hoping would be great, given the pretty awesome cast and hilarious-sounding premise.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really “deliver” what I wanted. (Groan)

The adorably nervous and socially awkward Jesse Eisenberg (who kicked all kinds of ass in movies like The Social Network, The Squid and the Whale, and Zombieland) stars as Nick, a guy who has literally nothing going for him, except that he delivers pizza.  Poor Nick becomes a kidnap/hostage-type victim who is forced (with the use of a bomb strapped to his chest) to rob a bank by two hillbillies (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who need cash quick to pay a hitman to off Kenny Powers’ asshole father, so they can inherit his millions.  Wow.  Typing that out felt even more ridiculous than I imagined it would.  Nick literally has no one to turn to for help except his former best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari).  Who in the fuck’s name is Chet?

My problems with this film stem mainly from its mean spirit, which can work if done well, but this was just sloppy, slightly stupid, and didn’t give its talented cast enough to work with.  There’s a fine line between a dark comedy and something that is just unpleasant.  I’m not a prude, and I’m not trying to say something blatantly ridiculous like I was disturbed by this film; I just felt like the meanness outweighed the funny.  Director Ruben Fleischer also helmed Zombieland, which was made of so, so, SO much awesome, and there’s none of that energy here.

The more I marinate on the cast, the sadder I become.  I love Danny McBride, and while Kenny Powers is a MASSIVE douche, he’s infused with SO. MUCH. HILARITY. that it’s okay, and he becomes a lovable douche.  In this film, his Dwayne was such a hateful, white trash evil pig from hell, that I had a hard time even laughing at him.  Nick Swardson’s Travis was Dwayne’s partner in crime, and the brains behind the bombs.  All I can ever see Swardson as is Reno 911‘s Terry Bernardino, the flaming, coked-out, roller skating wacko. And I LOVE that dude.  Travis didn’t really give Swardson any opportunity to be especially funny, and he’s more than capable of it.  Eisenberg was fine, he was a slight variation on the same kind of character he usually plays – the nervous, nerdy, weird, straight man.  Aziz Ansari is the final nail in the coffin – that dude usually CRACKS ME UP.  (Shout out to my boy TOM HAVERFORD).  He’s the kind of person who makes normal sentences, that would not be funny at all, HILARIOUS, just by the tone of his voice and vocal inflection.  Here, he tried his damnest, but it just wasn’t funny enough.

I don’t even feel much like going into the plot – it just doesn’t matter.  This might be funny if you were stoned, on your couch, with NOTHING else to do, but as an actual trip to the movies, it’s a bummer.  I didn’t despise this film, but it added nothing to my day, and is utterly forgettable.  About halfway through, four people straight up left the theater.  Out of TEN.  I can’t remember the last time I was at a movie where people actually LEFT.  I’d say leaving was a tad extreme, but looking back, I can’t really blame them.  They didn’t miss much.                                                                                                                                            ~Annie

Note the double entendre