End of Watch

Image_square_webby Susan

2012, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez. Written and directed by David Ayer.

Who are you willing to take a bullet for? Why? The action is an adrenaline-inducing rush while the relationship between Taylor and Zavala is the emotional core demanding that you care about these LAPD officers as they put their lives in danger day after day after day for the public good.

Here’s the thing about End of Watch: you might think it’s just another buddy/cop movie, maybe even a really good one. After you’ve seen it, you understand that it is so much more. Like writer/director David Ayer keeps saying, it’s really about the relationship between the two guys who happen to be police officer partners. Personally I kept thinking that for officers in a city like LA, particularly in the kind of neighborhoods they patrol in the movie, their experience is more like being soldiers at the front lines of an ongoing, never-ending war with crime. The intense violence and nearly wall-to-wall profanity will be highly offensive to some, but it’s all real to the time and place and characters. Ayer is showing us truth and unfortunately those things are part of it.

As we witness the special and unique bond between brothers and sisters in arms we get to know how much they are risking on a personal level and yet they don’t consider themselves to be heroes. It’s all just a day’s work for them that ranges from ludicrous to gruesome to deadly. They will take a bullet for each other, each would lay down his life to protect the other. Each feels responsible for the other’s safety. There are many vivid and intense moments in this film; I heard people gasping in shock in the theater long before the end.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are 100% believable as cops (as are all the other actors). Their five months of training for the roles did more than prepare them to play the parts, it helped transform them into cops for 22 days of filming. This is not just another cop movie, or just another gritty action movie, or just another buddy movie. This is a movie about what it’s really like for hard working family men and women to heroically protect and serve the public in a very dangerous place.

The movie feels amazingly real thanks to the documentary style in which it was filmed. To tell the kind of story David Ayer wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell it, this was the only way it could have been filmed. Using a handheld/documentary style of filming gives it a sense of realism that is vastly different from the way movies are normally shot. Ayer gives us a perspective that puts the viewer right in the action as if you are on a ride-along with those two officers. I didn’t find it to be distracting or overly shaky or annoying like a lot of “found-footage” movies have been. When the style of filming switched to a more traditional point of view, it was so seamless I was not even aware of it at the time. It was later as I was thinking about my experience of watching the movie that I realized there were some scenes that had not been supposedly captured with phone cameras or surveillance videos or as part of their job. Ayer shows some particular genius in being able to craft this movie to achieve that goal.

Yes, there are lots of things about this movie that are Oscar-worthy. Two of them are the performances by Gyllenhaal and Pena. Go see it. And after you do, the next time you see a police officer, thank him or her for their service. It’s the absolute least you can do.

A full bucket of popcorn!A full bucket of popcorn!A full bucket of popcorn!

Rating: THREE Buckets of popcorn, a large soda, box of Milk Duds, bag of peanut M&Ms, large nachos with extra cheese, plus a couple of hot dogs. Then reload and go back and see it again.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.

So I’ve been hearing this title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for quite some time. Well aware that it was a novel long before I ever heard of the Fincher film version, I never had time to read the book. Or maybe I didn’t feel motivated to read an English translation of a Swedish work. Perhaps I never caught a review of the book that piqued my interest or no one bothered to tell me in person just how good a read it really is. Whatever. By the time I realized that I need to read this book, plus the other two in the Millennium series, I was seeing previews for the Hollywood adaptation. Those previews looked very intriguing, if not downright mesmerizing. Besides, if Daniel Craig is starring, you can bet I’ll be there.

Sometimes a Hollywood remake of a foreign-language film can leave a lot to be desired and adaptations of complex popular books, even those highly anticipated by fans of the original, may tend to fall flat. These are my typical concerns with movies based on stories first published in a format meant to be read, not visually ingested. Once I started paying attention to the previews for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though, I reassessed my hesitation. Then came the epiphany: directed by David Fincher. Duh! All of my apprehension dissolved and I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Other films directed by Fincher such as Zodiac, Se7en, The Social Network, etc. are so superior that I had no doubt this would be a great movie. How closely it might remain true to the original source is another topic, but since I had not yet read the book I felt confident that I would enjoy the movie immensely without being hampered by comparisons.

It was with high expectations that I went to see this much-hyped film. All I knew of it was what I had seen in the previews:  it was set in extremely cold Sweden, there was a decades-old mystery to be solved, there would be a young female character sporting some kind of dragon-shaped tattoo, and Daniel Craig would lead the effort to solve the mystery.

Fincher did not disappoint – it was a riveting experience! Even though the beginning felt a little slow at first, it laid the groundwork for fully developing the main characters. To understand this girl with a dragon tattoo, Lisbeth, you had to get to know her, and Fincher made sure we got a proper introduction. Words like tough, independent, clever, fearless, strong, cunning, brilliant – words one would usually associate with a male role – are not even enough to properly describe Lisbeth. A ward of the state, she is at the mercy of her government caseworker for survival. When the caseworker mistakenly assumes he can do whatever he wants to her, she treats him to a dose of his own medicine – tenfold. Then she is free to take on the job of investigator for Mikael Blomkvist, helping him dig up the past of a wealthy family composed of some very strange and scary characters.

Just like other Fincher movies there is some shocking, graphic violence in this one. And though it may be difficult to watch (may actually have you squirming in your seat in discomfort), it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It feels real in a way that lets you sympathize with Lisbeth and understand a tiny bit about what motivates her. Rooney Mara deserves every bit of Oscar attention she gets for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Daniel Craig is excellent as Mikael Blomkvist, the Swedish magazine editor who takes on the assignment of solving the murder of an elderly, wealthy industrialist’s niece forty years before. Christopher Plummer as the elderly gentleman is a real treat.

It is quite a complex story: Does the niece’s murder tie into other old, unsolved murders? Just how crazy is Lisbeth? Is Blomkvist being set up to take an even greater fall than the disgrace he endures at the beginning of the movie? What is really wrong with the Vanger family, isolated on their island estate, protected by their collective silence and their vast wealth? Is there anyone still living who has the answers to the puzzle?

I am told by people who have read the book and seen the movie that the film is a great take on the novel, but much had to be left out. This is not surprising as it is understandably difficult to compress a really well-written and detailed story into appropriate movie length. Also, Rooney Mara may have taken the character of Lisbeth in a different direction than the actress in the original Swedish-language film version. I have no quibble with any of that; this is an excellent, riveting mystery-drama all on its own. Now I have to find time to read the book and see what amazing material had to be left out of Fincher’s version. Then I’ll read the other two books in the series and by the time those movies are made I’m sure I’ll have an opinion about how they compare to the novels.

In the meantime, I highly recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to anyone who enjoys good movies. Just be aware that there is profanity, graphic violence, and nudity in abundance.

Rating: Full Bucket plus an extra serving and some Milk DudsA full bucket of popcorn!One serving of popcorn