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Sunday, 9 December 2012

THIS WEEK: End Of Watch / Seven Psychopaths / Martha Marcy May Marlene / Rampart

0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good.  Rent it.
4 - Full Price
5 - Must See!


Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena respectively, are two police officers who patrol their beat in a dangerous area of Los Angeles.  Written and directed by David Ayer, who penned the superior Training Day, this film straddles a line between down to earth drama about the lives of these cops, and Hollywood cop thriller; the hybrid a degree.

So why to a degree?  Whilst having a good ear for very natural dialogue, clearly trying to illustrate the cops' life in an honest way, looking at them from both sides of their badge, there are a few burdens on the movie.  The now commonly observed, and most disruptive issue, is the choice to adopt the found footage approach.  He explains Brian's use of camera in a way that feels a bit contrived, but is acceptable; he then proceeds to not only have other characters filming their actions and discussions on their phones, with no explanation, but also to let us view events from a non-existent POV.  It could be argued his intention was to put us right in the action, having introduced us to the visual approach, and trust that we will go with it without question.  A lot of people have mentioned this did not work for them and I was one of them.  I would have been more impressed with a hybrid of visual style; Brian's on the job camera covering their actions, always seeing things from his POV, could have easily run counter to a more stylised shooting format for the overarching narrative.  Whilst this may have felt a little strange, it would have at least been consistent, but as it is Ayer seems intent on breaking his own rules of engagement, which speaks perhaps of his inexperience behind the camera.  With the whole movie feeling, at times, like an episoe of COPS, the visual style was a distraction I could never completely get my mind off.

The film is also a bit baggy, with parts that feel shabbily cut in and overlong to pad out the running time; I must confess there was a run of the film where I was not completely engaged, and was consciously waiting for the next scene that would pick it back up.  This is a shame, as the other characters surrounding these guys could have added something very fresh to the film, as counterpoint to their duty as cops, but there is never really any fleshing out of these elements; much of what we know about any backstory is delivered in short hand through conversations between the two leads.  Towards what turned out to be the end of the movie, I did get excited and shifted in my seat, as it looked for a moment like Ayer had a secret surprise up his sleeve which was about to raise the film to a whole new level, but then it turned out to be a quirk that felt unnecessary.

This said, I did admire the film's desire to present cops as real human beings with real lives, as nicely illustrated by Gyllenhaal's opening speech, and I thought the chemistry between the guys was very good; their dialogue is amusing, their performances strong, and the film is not without a lot of gripping moments.  It is also clearly well researched.  I enjoyed it overall, but more as a performance piece with good intentions and exciting punctuations; as a piece of cinema I think it is flawed and certainly not the best cop movie ever made, as it has been hailed elsewhere.

At cinema now


Catch it if you like:  Brooklyn's Finest, The French Connection, Training Day


Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell, and Christopher Walken as a principal cast.  Add to that cameos by Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton (who I thought was dead!) and Tom Waitts (the first two of which really are cameos - almost a Why did you bother paying named actors to do this? situation), playwright responsible for In Bruges, Martin McDonagh, as writer and director, and we are surely on to a winner, right?

I am happy to say yes, but not in the way you might think.  This madcap tale of a flailing writer with alcohol problems, getting himself tangled up with a bunch of psychos and doggy kidnap, is about as nutty as its title and synopsis would have you think.  The film is actually quite flawed.  After In Bruges it is clearly a step down, a product of a writer flailing in a similar way to the film's leading character; it is sloppy, baggy, anarchic film making, it is all over the place with its tone, ill-disciplined, obviously self-referential, and so off-beat as to sometimes miss the beats entirely.  In other words it's a bit like punk, and like the best punk, it is all of those elements that work in its favour; it has a charm and energy that would not be there if it was handled better...ironically.  It is also smart, which I didn't expect.  The performances are top-notch from top to bottom, with each actor providing exactly what you expect (and some of what you don't), a chemsitry that makes them completely watchable, and the stylish violence and snappy dialogue are fashioned in a way of which Tarantino would be proud.

Not an awards contender, and a movie that will likely be overshadowed by future work, but it is the fact he knows it and treats the material exactly as it needs to be treated that makes it work.

At cinema now

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  Coen Brothers when they are funny, In Bruges, Jackie Brown


Sean Durkin directs a cast, some of whom will be familiar to many film buffs, which includes Elizabeth Olsen as the titular character in this low-budget bebut.  Martha returns to the closest thing we could call home with her sister and now brother-in-law, after relieving herself of the company of an abusive cult.  After years with them, however, she is haunted by dreams and visions, and finds herself struggling to adapt to normality.

Once the film reaches a certain point, it does not take much looking to find the most obvious influence in recent history for such a story, and credit goes to the film for portraying the allure and effect of a group such as the one here lead by Patrick, played by the tremendous John Hawkes.  Credit must also go to the cinematography for capturing the blur between reality of the present and memory of the past so seductively.  The final and largest appluse obviously goes to Olsen, who is surprisingly effective and is already proving she may have a solid acting career ahead of her.  Beyond that, frustratingly, this film leaves a lot to be desired; too much to be able to recommend it, unfortunaely.  We never really get to explore the cult's motives or ideas, aside from the occasional lofty discussion about the body, identity, ways to live and life and death, nor do we ever dig into Martha's backstory and reasons for getting involved in the first place.  The interactions between Martha and her relatives also feel frustrating due to their increasingly unrealistic lack of understanding or empathy; at no point do we ever believe they truly care or worry about what has happened to Martha over the last few years with no contact.  Finally, as much as I enjoy open endings, leaving things to the audience to think on, etc, I must say I could not believe the credits rolled when they did.  In fact, I was looking forward to what was going to happen next; the movie had just engaged me when it came to an end!

So, not a bad effort, and worth a watch for the performances and some creepy elements, but on the whole Sean Durkin has a way to go before he is one to watch.

On DVD now.


Inspired by the real Rampart division and the stories of corruption that were weeded out in the late 90's, this should have been an engaging cop movie.  Woody Harrelson is as watchable as ever as the corrupt cop on charges of brutality, truly finding the real, complicated human being behind the badge.  Sadly, he cannot carry this film all the way home, and small guest appearances by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi are too brief to save it.

In short, some great acting and the occasional scene driven by some flukily good dialogue aside, this is a mess of a film; by an hour in I was waiting for the end.  Watch any other cop film and you are likely to find something better.

On DVD now.

1 / 5

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