On pause

This site is currently having a rest but regular posting continues on the Book Review blog For Winter Nights and at Wet Dark and Wild. Thanks for all your support here over the last few years! Cheers!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Oblivion posterMy requirements for a satisfying science fiction movie are simple – spaceships, aliens, big space/landscapes, flashing lights and a bit of tech. Oblivion has all of these, it also contains many of the elements that I have loved from a whole host of SF movies over the years. But this is not a problem, this is a cause of celebration. By packing itself full of what I love most about SF, Oblivion gave me two hours of pure delightful escapism, celebrating the genre and making no apologies for its gift. These days, cinema trips are an indulgent luxury. I can no longer go as often as I once did and as much as I would like to now. When I make it to the movies for a SF spectacular, I want my money’s worth. I got it today.

It would be criminal to give away the plot because it relies on a multitude of twists and turns, going full hilter before abrupt 360 degree u-turns. Suffice to say (and giving nothing away) that as it begins, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are an ‘effective team’. Their job is to repair and keep moving the drones that protect the Earth against the Scavengers. For this is after the battle. Earth fought a war that left it victorious but destroyed. Its inhabitants now removed to Saturn’s moon Titan, the few remaining live aboard a great triangular orbiting station, monitoring the harvesting of the planet’s seas for energy. Jack and Victoria are near the end of their mission to Earth, living a futuristic, almost idealised existence, on a tower, high above the land. Jack flies out each day in his podship to protect the final exodus of Earth’s surviving resources. In the evening he returns to candelit dinners and romantic swims.

But beneath the pair is a decimated Earth. The planet is destroyed. The Moon split in two. The cities are buried or ripped apart. Much of the surface is off limits due to lethal radiation. But as Jack goes about his business he thinks back on the Earth as it was. It is almost as if he remembers. But how could he remember anything? His memories are wiped. Why then does he dream every night of the same woman?

Out of this, the story explodes. And you’ll have to find out what happens for yourself, ideally in a cinema seat.

There are so many echoes here of moments from other SF – notably Wall-E, Independence Day, Moon, Legend, Star Wars, Inception, Mad Max. That’s just a few of them. This didn’t bother me in the least although I can understand why it might trouble some. I liked the way it was done. I thought it was doing it to try and say something about science fiction. More than anything, though, it was simply magnificent to look at with a plot to keep me engrossed.

Tom Cruise was his usual efficient and enthusiastic self but Andrea Riseborough does deserve a mention (even if I did spend most of the time thinking she was Rosalind Pike). This was the secondary role. While Cruise is out earning his crust fighting baddies and getting to strut with a gun and enjoy the few bits of greenery surviving, Riseborough is confined in haute couture to a state of the art penthouse with no lifts or stairs. She conveys so much feeling with her eyes and I felt much more for her than I did for the other main female role, played by Olga Kurylenko. Another actor worth a mention is Morgan Freeman. He is perfectly cast.

We have seen the Earth – especially New York City and Washington DC – in an apocalyptic state on many an occasion but not like this.

The director, Joseph Kosinski, was also responsible for Tron Legacy. Oblivion is clearly a big step in the right direction from that. And, while it is no Star Trek (what could be after all?), Oblivion gave me all that I wanted and more from an afternoon at the pictures and was much better than most SF movies I’ve seen over the last couple of years.

Do take a look at the review over at Excuses and Half Truths – Rob says it all far better than I do.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Oblivion


Lincoln PosterThere is little doubt that the proposal and vote for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America was one of the defining moments of 19th-century history, if not all modern history. The amendment had the honour of outlawing slavery and making the entrapment of another human being illegal except through the due process of law. At the time, war waged between the northern and southern states of America but, to Abraham Lincoln at least, the battle for victory was almost secondary to the fight for equality. One began to depend upon the other and that was because of the determination and charisma of Lincoln and the men who campaigned alongside him, all of whom could understand that this was not just a decision affecting their own lives, but also those of millions of souls living in the future who, because of the decision made in 1865, would be born free.

Stephen Spielberg’s film Lincoln dramatises the process that brought the 13 Amendment into the constitution of American law, set within the context of the American Civil War, now four years old and fed by the deaths and injuries of many thousands of men, not all of whom are white. The nature of the subject means that we could have a film that is dry and a museum piece but the subject of that amendment means that instead we have a film that is passionate and vigorous.

At the heart of it stands Abraham Lincoln, played so brilliantly by Daniel Day Lewis, an actor who is able to shed his own skin. Lincoln stands tall, a giant among his contemporaries, and a man with great wit and humour. The film suggests that Lincoln has an anecdote for every occasion, a funny tale, while the near madness of his wife Molly reminds us of the tragedy in the president’s life as well as in the lives of all parents who have lost sons during this horrendous conflict. Lincoln is the tree, standing true and tall, amidst the arenas of battle or politics, around whom all the action revolves, all fed by Lincoln’s deep abomination for slavery. He is bolstered in this, strangely, by his political opponent Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) who has striven for the abolition of slavery his entire life.

I love a good historical novel and in Spielberg’s Lincoln I have been given the movie equivalent. The settings and locations are excellent and rich with historic detail. The many characters are lively and heated with debate. The beards, wigs, hair and dresses are splendid in their variety and strangeness. Above all, though, is Lincoln. A man of humour, warmth, kindness and fun. A loving father, a husband shredded by grief, and a president aged, almost before our eyes, by responsibility for his fellow citizens, whether they be white or black, many of whom have fought, died or been hopelessly damaged by the Civil War over which he presides. A man for all ages.

Lincoln has been accused of wordiness. After seeing this marvellous film, I think that can be only considered a compliment.

As an afternote, as a result of this film, Mississippi has now ratified the amendment.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Lincoln

Les Miserables

Les Mis posterMany years ago, I went to the West End to see Les Miserables during the London musical feeding frenzy that saw Les Mis pitted against Phantom of the Opera. Tickets had to be bought months in advance and so I ended up with a ticket from a tout. I was so high in the gods that the only thing preventing me from falling to the ground in a vertigo fit was the massive great pillar slapbang in front of my face. As a result, my feelings were mixed. Nevertheless, I’ve had a love of this musical for years and I have been counting the days to the release of Tom Hooper’s cinematic version.

Much has been made of the fact that Hooper had his actors sing live during the filming. No tarted up studio singing here. And what a great decision this was. On stage, Les Mis is an emotional tour de force but it is more rousing than gut wrenching. In the film, the distance between character and audience is removed. Close ups of faces distraught with feeling, singing ‘live’, makes this film musical so intense, so powerfully raw that I have rarely sobbed as much in a theatre before. It’s not easy to spoil Les Mis, it was published well over 100 years ago and many know the songs, but it gives nothing away to say that these were not good days for Paris. If you were poor, you might well end up on the streets thieving or prostituting oneself. If you were rich and with a conscience you might be blown to pieces on the barricades of revolution. As a member of the audience, you sit through it all – pride, despair, death, faith, vengeance, justice, cruelty, poverty, love, mercy and more death. One tissue will not be enough. An entire loo roll might not be enough.

Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman have already won their first major awards of the season – Golden Globes for (respectively) best supporting actress and best actor in a musical or comedy. This might well, Daniel Day-Lewis permitting, be repeated at the Oscars without the musical or comedy label. It is true that Hathaway’s Fantine has relatively little screen time. But, blimey, what she gets she puts to perfect use. It is also fair to say that her version of I Dreamed a Dream bears little similarity to Susan Boyle’s. Hugh Jackman likewise deserves all he gets – through song and expression, we watch Valjean’s life evolve in front of our eyes and ears. Who would have thought that a musical character could be so perfectly three-dimensional.

But they’re not alone – Russell Crowe as Javert and Eddie Redmayne as Marius were stand out performances for me. Watching and listening to Redmayne singing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables may be enough to push the fragile Les Mis viewer over the edge. While I have heard complaints about Crowe’s singing, I found his performance nothing less than charismatic throughout. I can’t imagine any other actor breathing such authority into the inspector uniform. How great, too, to see Colm Wilkinson – the most well-known stage Valjean – as the Bishop (what a voice) and another figure from the stage musical, Samantha Barks as Eponine.

Les Mis looks as good as it sounds – from the opening scene, which is visually spectacular to the barricades in the streets – you can smell the muck and cheap scent of the streets almost as vividly as you can hear the pain of living in them. I saw Les Mis (twice) in a cinema packed to the gills with weeping, sobbing men and women. The punch of Les Mis knows no restraint and few can withstand it.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Impossible

The Impossible posterHaving grown up on the Disaster Movies of the 70s and 80s, there is one thing I am very sure of about The Impossible. This is no disaster movie. Instead, we are given just a small glimpse into the unimaginable horror and devastation that was the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami through its impact on one family – a man and his wife and their three sons, two aged just 7 and 5. Holidaying in a luxurious resort on a Thai island, the family is ripped apart by the waves, smashed against God knows what under the mass of water. Finding each other again, even just surviving such a disaster, would be a miracle. It is this endeavour which holds you fast in your seat watching The Impossible.

The Impossible is based on a true story although here the story has been Hollywoodised – the original Spanish family has become British with Ewan McGregor as Henry, Naomi Watts as Maria and Tom Holland as their eldest son Lucas. I doubt, though, that this transformation matters a jot in the scheme of things because it is impossible not to be drawn into the arms of this happy and loving family. The fact that they are on their Christmas holidays in such an idyllic, beautiful spot only heightens the contrast of what’s to come. When it does come, it is superbly done. Foreshadowed by a series of little, jarring moments – ominous shudders on the plane, movements of the sea, disturbed dreams – the tsunami itself, when it comes, is incomprehensible in its force. The film does not flinch – although I did.

The tsunami obviously devastated local communities and here we are focusing on a family of holidaymakers who, should they survive, have homes to return to, but The Impossible does not look the other way. All nationalities are reduced to one humanity here, with people trying to help each other or, in a very few cases, not helping. As outsiders ourselves, the performances of McGregor, Watts and Holland (as well as the two little boys) powerfully allow us to get just a taste of an idea of what it might have been like. There’s another little boy in this film and when he tries to comfort Naomi Watts’ character it’s impossible not to give in to the tears.

I’ve had my issues with Ewan McGregor’s acting over the years but surely here he gives a career-defining performance. As does Naomi Watts. The lives and stories of others around them, people they meet, help or are helped by, together build this astonishing portrayal of human endeavour, determination and love – our defences on those occasions when nature shows us what she can do.

The trailer below is spoilery so be warned.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Impossible


QuartetMaybe it’s just a sign that I’m getting older, but I do draw comfort from movies that don’t rely on superheroes and action heroes to grab my unreliable attention span. While I appreciate Batman as much as the next moviegoer, I find something hugely enjoyable about seeing a film that relies on an excellent cast, a great script, a pleasant setting and some well-thought out hometruths. Quartet, a film directed by a man who has been round the block a bit – Dustin Hoffman, might be continuing the silver-haired retirement tradition of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel but I’ve discovered in me a weakness for this sort of film. Replacing CGI with stunning scenery or, as in this case, a beautiful house and gardens, and populating this environment with actors I’ve watched throughout my life, such movies have a power to weld me to the seat, glass of wine in one hand and a soggy tissue in the other. As I say, I am getting older. Though not that old.

Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly are our quartet. They live in Beecham House, a home for retired musicians, which relies for its continued existence on an annual gala in celebration of the birth of Verdi in which the exalted residents of the house perform. The gala is directed by the elaborately-robed Michael Gambon who rules the gala committee with a stern hand, aided by the timid Andrew Sachs. Maggie Smith plays the newest and most famous arrival at the House, Jean Horton, a name to strike fear into the hearts of the other residents especially Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay) who was once married to the opera star. The marriage didn’t end well. But should our quartet unite for Verdi’s Rigoletto, as they once did years before for stage and disc, then the future of Beecham House would be assured. But Jean Horton has sworn never to sing again.

This reunification of a well-loved operatic quartet is the surface story of the film but there is so much more to it than that. At its heart is a huge theme, described so well by the lascivious Wilf (Billy Connelly) – everyone grows old even though you feel just the same on the inside; you might not like it, you may hate it intensely, but you have to deal with it. Cissy (Pauline Collins) deals with it in her own way, her mind slipping into the past, confused and girlish, while overflowing with friendship and kindness for those around her. Wilf himself carries on as if nothing has changed, flirting outrageously with the house doctor Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith) while Reggie had believed he had come to terms with senility gracefully. And then Jean Horton turned up, proving that all wrong.

Dustin Hoffman might be American and its writer Ronald Harwood might be South African but Quartet has a very British feel to it, which is hardly surprising considering it has a cast of British luminaries that have trampled the stageboards for decades. But what gives the film a more universal appeal, though, is that it is constructed within the universe of opera and music. Quite apart from the principal quartet, the film is populated by genuine opera singers and musicians, many of whom contribute their voice or music to the movie. The only downside of this, though, is that it highlights how little our cinematic quartet actually can sing.

The script is full of gems and there are little surprises, musical and otherwise (how I love Trevor Peacock), but for me the thrill here was spending more time at the cinema in front of an actress I have admired for years – Pauline Collins. Star of one of my very favourite films, Shirley Valentine, plus featuring in a programme that I grew up watching, Upstairs Downstairs, Pauline Collins can do no wrong in my eyes and here she is a scene stealer, with Tom Courtenay not far behind at all. Maggie Smith for me, though, is always nothing more or less than Maggie Smith. I find too little variety in her acting – she is my female equivalent of Bill Nighy. His absence here was refreshing. I would like to see other British leading ladies in the Maggie Smith role. These Isles are rich in them. I also found it extremely hard to believe that Maggie Smith could ever have sung opera.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Quartet. As Sheridan Smith says in a poignant speech – their love of life is infectious.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Quartet

Life of Pi

Life of Pi posterAng Lee has a poetic soul, with the ability to paint all areas of human experience with a colour that highlights all that is meaningful. I know this is true because The Hulk is the exception that proves it. Brokeback Mountain is a film with a great significance for me. It did actually change my life (for the better, I hasten to add). And so I knew that if anyone could interpret Yann Martel’s much loved novel Life of Pi eloquently for the cinema it would be Ang Lee.

Our young hero Piscine – named after a swimming pool but reinterpreted by school chums as ‘Pee’ and ‘Pissing’ – adopts the relative safer name of ‘Pi’, handily backed up by being able to write down the mathematical Pi in its infinity (I wonder if anyone checked). He is brought up in Pondichery Zoo in India, a small zoo cared for by his wise father and kind mother. When the zoo fails, the family sets sail with all of the animals in a great cargo ship bound for Canada and a new life. But a huge storm strikes the vessel and the ship sinks, leaving Pi bereft and alone, adrift on a lifeboat. For 227 days he survives in a tale of boundless courage, resourcefulness and resilience. His survival is all the more remarkable because with him in the lifeboat as the cargo ship sinks is a zebra, a hyena, an orang-outang and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. Survival of the fittest is a brutal concept and soon only Pi and Parker are left and so begins their struggle to live.

Life of Pi is a film with two clear parts to it. Its beginning in a French-speaking region of India is full of life, humour and vivid colour. Here, the curious Pi picks up some of the lessons that will serve him in good stead later on. I found it difficult to leave this section of the film, in a way mirrored by Pi’s grief at leaving behind his warm, vibrant homeland for the unknown in Canada. Much of the film, though, takes place at sea with only Pi and a CGId Bengal tiger for company. But while the tiger remains firmly unsentamentalised and always frightening, Pi retains his humanity throughout, dealing with this terrible situation with humour and ingenuity. And we share it all in wondrous astonishment and admiration.

This is also intended to be a story about God – Pi is a follower of at least three faiths – and His presence is portrayed to Pi here in a multitude of ways even when to the audience His absence is conspicuous.

Pi sees the world through wondrous eyes and even in the depths of his trial he can marvel at the world around him, whether it be flying fish, jelly fish or whales. The most striking and haunting beauty, though, is seen through the ocean depths – the lights from the sinking, doomed vessel. Beautiful but hugely moving.

Suraj Sharma is perfect in this role, which, as we see him grow thin and haggard, clearly took its toll on his body. Richard Parker, also, is a masterpiece in CGI life. He is never anthropomorphised but he is very much a living, breathing character. Our feelings towards him, like Pi’s, are complicated.

I saw Life of Pi in 2D and so I cannot comment on the 3D except to say that it has attracted a great deal of praise. There are moments of almost surreal beauty on the boat and I can only imagine how stunning they would have looked and felt with an extra dimension.

With Life of Pi Ang Lee has shown again that he visualises human emotion and feelings peerlessly. While I didn’t feel the raw gut connection to this film as I did to Brokeback Mountain (that may have been once in a lifetime reaction), watching Life of Pi was one of my finest cinema experiences of 2012. Lee most certainly did every page of the novel justice.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Life of Pi

Seven Psychopaths

Seven PsychopathsMarty is a screenwriter with writer’s block. He wants to write a script called Seven Psychopaths but he wants it not to be violent but life affirming. No final shoot outs, no last man standing, just reasoned discussion around a campfire in the desert. Just as well, then, that he has best friend Billy around to inspire him and put him straight. For Billy knows something that Marty doesn’t – psychopaths are all around. And whatever you do, don’t steal their dogs.

Seven Psychopaths is the long awaited follow up to 2008’s In Bruges by director Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell. You’d be forgiven for expecting wit, style, shocks – happy I was that this is just what I was given. It is self-knowing – aggravated by Colin Farrell’s screenwriter character being called Marty – and it has more swearing than my gentle ears are engineered to cope with but, nevertheless, there is a fun to be had from the games here. As Marty puts his script together, in between drinking large amounts of bourbon and beer, and Billy (Sam Rockwell) seeks to inspire him, in between co-running a dog stealing racket with Hans (Christopher Walken), the film that they write is mirrored by the film that we see. And while that means women do little but wear wet t-shirts, it also means that Farrell, Rockwell and Walken lead us on quite a twisty path.

Seven Psychopaths posterIt’s fair to say violence an blood are to be expected from a film which contains a minimum of seven psychopaths. There is a good bit of both here. I’m not a big fan of watching people having their heads sawn off, blown up or chainsawed but it’s done here in such a cartoony way I got through it relatively unscathed.

The film is a bit choppy in itself. It jumps about, mimicking the chaos in the brains of at least seven of its characters. It’s best not to expect too coherent a structure as the action follows a sequence that is more wished for than real. This is, after all, the story of the creation of a script about psychopaths. It is expected to follow a certain path and if reality challenges it at all then it’s too bad. It will be given a nudge.

Apart from some very decent scenery, the film belongs to Rockwell. So perfect in Moon and underused subsequently, here Rockwell flourishes, combining tragedy and comedy perfectly. Farrell also has some fun while not minding others stealing the limelight. Christopher Walken is his usual crazy scary self… What I enjoyed most of all, though, is the mix of the insanely ludicrously hilarious and the sadness of realising that we may lose the ones we love the most.

Dogs and rabbits also feature heavily in Seven Psychopaths but they fare marginally better than the humans. If only the hubby would stop calling it Seven Cycle Paths…

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Seven Psychopaths

Skyfall – Bond is back on form

Daniel Craig has achieved something rather astonishing with Skyfall, the latest in the 50-year old Bond franchise: he has completely filled the shoes of James Bond. Although, it’s fair to say, he has had to do a fair amount of tweaking to make them fit. At some point during the last ten years Craig has become one of the most charismatic of British actors and while a significant part of that is to do with the figure of Bond, James Bond himself has much to be thankful to Daniel Craig for. Bond is reborn but not as a superhuman. Bond is now flawed, ageing a little and feeling the pain; his wit has an extra touch of bitter self-awareness in it and his body hungers less for sex than his heart. I almost hate to say it but during Skyfall I actually found myself liking Jakes Bond – and this is a first. Bond can still run along the tops of trains and strangle men with his thighs, but his purpose is far more determined now that mortality has appeared on the horizon.

Skyfall is a film that many of us will see regardless – in fact, so many people saw it at my local cinema that they completely ran out of popcorn (not wine, though, fortunately) – but I do believe that many would have been pleasantly surprised by what they got. My Bond expectations weren’t so much fulfilled as re-written.

The story of Skyfall twists and turns itself around in a circle of loops that do much to illuminate the character of James Bond (or at least this incarnation), what it means to work for the Secret Service and what the Service does to you. Times are a changing, as a character says during the film. In these post Cold War days, when the enemy is no longer a nation, how can you be sure who the enemy is? How can you see into the shadows? My viewing of Skyfall benefited hugely from having no knowledge of the storyline and so that’s where I’ll leave it. It’s enough to say that it is an excellent one and not at all typically Bondy.

Daniel Craig’s excellence in the film is unquestionable but he has a rival here and his name is Javier Bardem. Bardem makes a wholly satisfying and terrifying Bond villain, not like one we have seen before and all the more frightening for it. He is a big screen dominator. Stick him in a scene with Daniel Craig and the frisson is almost enough to make one spontaneously combust. Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes are both superb and it was pleasing to see a Bond movie where older women with their clothes on were given far more screen time than younger women without their clothes on. Ben Whishaw was very enjoyable, too, as the new Q.

Sam Mendes, the director, was a surprise to me. I had been troubled by the original news that he was to direct. I admire his work but did wonder how he would handle such an action-driven movie. The answer was happily very well indeed. He did it with fewer special effects and a lot more realism but thrills galore there were. When survival actually comes in to doubt, not just for the baddies, the heart pumps that little bit faster. Mendes also gave Skyfall a Britishness that has a lot less to do with stiff upper lip stereotypes and more to do with a sense of place and a drive to preserve that place. Skyfall looks excellent – the locations, in London and out of it, are beautifully shot. Bond looks great in them.

As one would hope after fifty years, there are a few sentimental and affectionate throwbacks to the old Bond days and ways, not least one driving sequence, which rates high for me among my favourite moments of the film. This was far more classy than the advert that preceded the film advertising 007 scent for men.

Skyfall isn’t perfect. I do not like the Adele title song (despite liking Adele very much) and neither did I especially enjoy the opening scenes. For me, the film came into its own the moment that Javier Bardem came onto the screen to join Daniel Craig. From that moment on, Skyfall and Bond had my fullest attention.

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

End of Watch

Today I was lucky enough to see End of Watch a good five weeks ahead of its UK release on 23 November – thanks to the London Film Festival. Not only that, it also gave me the opportunity to catch up with friends and movie blogging chums. This is what a festival should be all about: excellent (one hopes) movies and friends to share them with and mull them over with a drink. The day would have been wonderful even if End of Watch had disappointed. How brilliant, then, that the film exceeded all my rather limited expectations.

My Jake Gyllenhaal fan-status is hardly a secret (a handy juncture at which to insert a Wet Dark and Wild link) but neither is my unease with films that include what I consider excessive amounts of violence or swearing. I am English, after all. When I heard that Jake was to appear in David Training Day Ayer’s latest gritty LA cop drama I did not hide my fears. Apart from horror, which I can’t cope with in any shape or form – at least while staying conscious, American police dramas are right up there among movies that I would never bother with or possibly even be aware of. But having written about End of Watch since its conception, I had to see it, fully aware that I could hate it. And if I did, I would say so in no uncertain terms.

To compound matters, End of Watch also incorporates another irritation – handheld cameras. The Found Footage genre is one I needed no more of after the excellent Troll Hunter.

What I got with End of Watch was a peculiar mix of what I was expecting but presented in an astonishingly original fashion. The cameras worn by Police Officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) supported the story, making no attempt to steal it. The story itself, of two young LA cops trying to keep the peace in a neighbourhood set on tearing itself apart, is told through the affectionate banter between Taylor and Zavala, often rude and offensive as banter will be between two men who are as brothers, as they patrol the dangerous streets of LA. They joke about their race (one is white, one is Mexican), their families, their sex lives, their colleagues and their hopes for their children. You will laugh and smile with them. We see their women – Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez – and we witness their bravery under fire. Literally.

Unfortunately for Officers Taylor and Zavala, these streets are at war. Black and Hispanic gangs fight for control of the neighbourhood’s narcotics and when Taylor and Zavala stick their noses where they’re not wanted that’s it. They will be hunted. All the time, we follow these two cops on patrol, into their homes, their parties and their marriages and always smiling with them, feeling warm for them, sharing their fear. They’re such brave men but they’re also normal and immensely likeable. Thanks to the cameras they hold, we know them even better than we would otherwise.

The screening I went to featured subtitles (this was a special festival screening with subtitles for the deaf) and, to be honest, I was rather grateful for them. With almost every other word an expletive, the others rushed by so fast it was hard to make sense of the talk, especially when it came from the cartel. I don’t like excessive swearing, largely because it becomes meaningless through overuse. This film did prove the point and I didn’t care for it. I know cops and drug dealers and murderers swear; it’s not necessary to deafen me with it in a film. End of Watch also has moments of extreme violence and gore. While it didn’t reach the levels of Drive – when I had to coincide toilet breaks with head smashing – there were moments when I couldn’t look. There were other moments when, if I had eaten anything more than Haribo sharks, I would have thrown up. But this is just me – I am a sensitive soul. Other people will no doubt applaud it for its realism.

All in all, though, I was left shellshocked by End of Watch. I half expected a film I wouldn’t want to watch, but what I got was an extraordinarily intimate and human and even gentle portrait of two courageous young officers, both of whom are prepared to put their lives on the line time after time, have families and women who love them, are respected by their colleagues, and have to face the dregs of humanity day in, day out.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are superb in their roles. Superb. Much of the dialogue is improvised and there would have been no movie to speak of if the two actors hadn’t gelled together so completely. So much of the film is funny! And so that makes other parts of the film very hard to take. The movie was filmed in a matter of days, after six months of training and research with the police. The result is a natural, realistic and human portrait of two cops as they go through their watch. Extraordinary. I’ve followed Jake Gyllenhaal’s career for years and with End of Watch he – and Michael Pena – has done something very special indeed.

End of Watch is out in the US already and will spread across Europe from November. It reaches the UK on 23 November. Watch it.

Another perspective can be seen here at Excuses and Half Truthss from Rob who was, I think, about seven rows back and a bit to the left…

Posted in Film, Reviews | Tagged , , | 12 Comments