End of Watch (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is attending a film class as an elective so he chooses to document the every day happenings as an LAPD cop even though some of his fellow officers and superior do not like the idea. They think it is a liability waiting to happen as well as a distraction from the job. Unaware that a cartel is forming in South Central, when Officer Taylor and his partner, Officer Zavala (Michael Peña), end up arresting a man carrying multiple wads of cash hidden in soup and a golden firearm underneath the seat of a truck, it is an act similar to shaking a hornet’s nest. The drug cartel’s kingpin puts a price on their heads.
What makes “End of Watch,” written and directed by David Ayer, stand out from yet another film that chooses a hand-held camera style as a conceit to tell its story is its keen attention on the partnership between two characters. And although it has shootings that are expected in cop dramas, they hold an excitement every time because we learn and come to understand what it is at stake for the duo. While they do embody certain stereotypes, mainly cops relishing to command a level of power, they are neither defined nor limited by our expectations.
The chemistry between Peña and Gyllenhaal is a very necessary element that must be done just right in order to be believable. During down times, the two officers share a partnership that is more brotherly than professional. Their conversations in the patrol car quickly come to mind, ranging from the clichés of dating a white woman versus a Mexican woman to seeking each other’s advice about romantic relationships. Conversely, when the they find themselves in the middle of the action, their focus is on the job and yet there is an active attempt to maintain their connection. They keep each other in check just in case one gets too caught up in the moment or his own thoughts. It is expertly communicated that being a cop is as much as an internal battle as it is an external one.
The film put me through a roller coaster of emotions. It is admirable how the funny exchanges are intercut with scenes that hold genuine suspense, sadness, and horror. It is a scary reminder of the reality with which some people live. The image of an infant and a toddler with duct tape around their mouths and limbs because their drug-addicted parents cannot tolerate the crying shook me to the core. This scene, and others similar to it that are best left to be discovered and experienced, is allowed to unravel in a slow and calculated manner until the inevitable horror is reached.
A hindrance is the generous jumping of perspective. There is a noticeable disruption in momentum when a prior scene is through a cop’s eyes and the next that of a gangster’s. While the latter’s world is also very interesting, it might have been better off if the writer-director had not employed the hand-held camera style when they are front and center. There is much talk about needing “respect,” but we do not get to know them as much as Officers Taylor and Zavala.
“End of Watch” scrubs the glamour off policing. It may not have introduced situations I have not already seen but it creates a level of excitement tiers above similar pictures that are louder, badder, and ultimately emptier.
Tower Heist (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street kingpin and the owner of a posh high-rise condominium, was arrested for fraud which left Josh (Ben Stiller), the building manager, and the rest of his staff shocked and angry. It turned out that Shaw invested their pensions in various schemes and lost it all. Eventually, though, an idea scurried into Josh’s head. There was a safe in Shaw’s penthouse which contained about twenty million dollars. With the help of Charlie (Casey Affleck), Josh’ brother-in-law, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), one of the residents who was recently bankrupt, Dev’Reaux (Michael Peña), the establishment’s recent hire, and Slide (Eddie Murphy), one of Josh’ neighbor with a criminal background, they could purloin the money and distribute it to the staff. “Tower Heist,” directed by Brett Ratner, was uneven in tone and pacing with strong but often inconsistent laughs. The exposition was slow but necessary because it allowed us to see Josh’ pride in his work. As a building manager, he was more than a guy in a suit who bossed people around. He was determined to perform his job well. In order to be successful in his occupation, he needed to be liked which meant that he was required to get to know the residents beyond their superficial needs and to have a certain insight in terms of his co-workers’ personal lives. Since he was familiar to details and habits, when he did eventually decide to plot the heist, we were able to believe that he could succeed. The funniest parts of the picture were found in the middle prior to the actual break-in. In one of the scenes, Slide was not convinced that Josh and his friends would be able to go through with the heist. In order to be convinced, he assigned the tyro thieves to shoplift fifty dollars worth of items at the mall. There was joy and energy in the way each of the characters had to summon the courage to take something without paying for it. I just lost it when the store attendant walked away to get a catalogue and Charlie tried to pick up a pair of earrings with his mouth. I’ve never stolen anything from a store so I think that if I was dared to do it, I’d make a mess of things out of anxiety. Another very funny scene was a discussion about lesbians and why their breasts were better than heterosexual women’s. Just when I expected that the screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson might turn mean-spirited, I was surprised that there was always a light-heartedness in the material. What didn’t work for me were the more serious scenes. In a more solemn movie about a person losing his entire savings, Lester (Stephen Henderson), the hotel’s doorkeeper, walking toward a moving train and trying to jump in front of it would have had more emotional impact. When the picture attempted to be more serious, it felt rather cheap. Like the most engaging heist movies, getting to the object of interest was the easy part. There was a running theme about playing chess. When Josh and company broke into the building, I thought it was more like watching people playing checkers–while some strategy was involved, it was straightforward. I was underwhelmed. The nearly impossible task was getting away with it. It was the point where, finally, I felt like I was watching a chess game. There were always unforeseen forces that threatened to destroy the operation. I wish there were more scenes of Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), one of the hotel’s cleaning ladies, being sassy and having her way with men. “Tower Heist” gave a few laugh-out-loud moments but it could have been more snarky, therefore funnier. Poke fun of the more improbable physics employed, for instance. By being a step ahead of the audience who think they know better, the picture can appear smarter and get the last laugh.