Law and disorder dominate this week’s DVD round-up.
End of Watch (StudioCanal) tells the story of Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code) and Officer Miguel ‘Mike’ Zavala (Michael Pena, Observe & Report), two cops who patrol the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. Caught up in the middle of a gang war between the Bloods and an unhinged posse of Latino gangbangers, Taylor and Zavala are keen to earn the respect of South Central’s criminal fraternity, even if it means taking off their badges and going toe-to-toe with the bad guys. Their fearless, occasionally downright reckless, behaviour means that they get results, but it also succeeds in putting some of their colleagues’ noses out of joint back at the station house. Determined to make a name for themselves, the duo go above and beyond the call of duty after following up a drug-bust, and quickly discover a dark secret that makes them the target of Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel.
Over the last decade writer/director David Ayer has explored LA’s grubby underbelly on numerous occasions, whether as a writer (Training Day), a director (Street Kings), or as in the case of End of Watch, both. Happily, in many ways, End of Watch is his best movie yet. The stodgy Street Kings failed to deliver on the promise of his directorial debut Harsh Times, but End of Watch strips away the earlier movie’s clichÃ©s for something far more involving. The always-impressive Jake Gyllenhaal has never been better, and the perennially underrated Michael Pena offers top-notch support as his fearless partner. As much a film about friendship as a film about cops, End of Watch is utterly compelling and entirely convincing.
However, considering how integral it is to the film’s aesthetic, the found-footage aspect of the film strikes a weirdly hollow note. The technique may be a well-established horror movie trick, but it is rarely used in crime filmmaking, with good reason. A mumbled, unconvincing aside that Taylor (an ex-Marine) is working on a ‘film project’ is deemed justification enough for his omnipresent camera, but it seems churlish to complain too hard, given the overall quality of the film. Heavily recommended.
The events depicted in The Bay (Momentum) unfold in the quaint coastal town of Claridge, Maryland, which is situated on the shore of Chesapeake Bay. When two scientific researchers discover a staggering level of toxicity in the water, their attempts to alert the mayor to the possible dangers fall on deaf ears, and he refuses to create a panic, lest his dirty little secret involving undiluted chicken excrement being pumped directly into the bay from a nearby battery farm be discovered. As a result, during the town’s annual Independence Day celebrations, a gruesome waterborne plague is unleashed, quickly infecting the residents and plunging the idyllic small town into abject terror.
Presented as a series of excerpts from CCTV, camera phones, TV reports, web-cam transmission and 911 recordings, The Bay is ostensibly helmed by Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a novice TV journalist who unwittingly finds herself in the thick of the action as the virus breaks. Improbably directed by Hollywood veteran Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man), The Bay is a genuinely creepy little movie, full of nervy edge-of-seat moments, and its bedrock of disturbingly plausible science gives the film a strangely prophetic quality. As unpalatable as the thought of a big-name director slumming it with a found-footage horror movie is, Levinson has delivered his best work in over a decade, and saved himself from TV movie purgatory in the process.
In Small Town Murder Songs (Soda Pictures) the quiet pace of life in a rural Mennonite community is ruptured when the body of a young, unidentified woman is found dead by the lake. The investigation falls to Walter (Peter Stormare, Fargo, Prison Break), an aging cop with a violent past. Tormented by his ambiguous history and finding his investigation thwarted by the mistrust of the community at large, Walter begins to suspect the involvement of his ex-partner Rita (Jill Hennessey, Law & Order) and her scumbag boyfriend Steve (Stephen Eric McIntyre). Under the watchful eye of state police officer Washington, Walter is at pains to prevent the investigation from spilling over into his carefully constructed new life, but finds himself on a violent collision course with the culprit.
Canadian director Ed Gass-Donnelly has long been tipped as ‘one to watch’, after carving himself a niche as a director of intriguing short films, and Small Town Murder Songs arguably represents his largest canvas to date. Not that it is an epic: with a brisk 75-minute run-time, Small Town Murder Songs trims the flab off its deceptively simple storyline, filling in the blanks with the rousing soundtrack by Canadian indie band Bruce Peninsula. With his next feature -The Last Exorcism Part2 -already in the bag, Gass-Donnelly looks set to go onto bigger (if not necessarily better) things. Powered by a quietly intense central performance from the always-watchable Stormare, this is an unsettling art-house cop-drama that lingers in the memory.