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USA 2009
Directed by
Jody Hill
86 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

Observe And Report

Synopsis: Ronnie Bernhardt (Seth Rogen) is Head of Mall Security for a shopping mall in suburban America. He is also bi-polar, delusional and obsessed with catching a flasher. His obsession runs him up against Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) assigned to the case and far more interested in the victim than catching the perpetrator. When Ronnie goes off his medication, things spiral down and out.

Observe And Report is not a film for everyone. It’s probably not for many people at all actually. Films like this are hard to defend, they’re made by people with acid for blood circulated through black hearts fed by the tears of children whose dogs have been put to sleep. Well, maybe not that bad, but people who like their humour very, very dark. I really liked it.

I’ve read that director Jody Hill wanted to make a comedic version of Taxi Driver, and you can see a lot of that film here, though it didn’t really matter that I didn’t know that when I saw it. The story is the age old fable of a put-upon man with dreams of being something bigger, and like Travis Bickle before him, Ronnie Bernhardt sees aggressivity and semi-vigilantism as the path to apotheosis. He’s hard to like, because while he’s occasionally noble, mostly he’s just brutish, violent and clueless. And it’s hard to tell if the filmmakers liked him either, because the things he goes through are brutish and violent too. He comes out on top of almost every situation though, because he is more violent than his opponents. Detective Harrison, fed up with the passive-aggressive baiting of Ronnie, dumps him in the middle of the worst part of town. The twists that follow are both excruciating and hysterically funny, Ronnie misconstruing the attempt at getting him killed for a police initiation and embracing it wholeheartedly. By the end though, Ronnie knows exactly where he stands, and his comedown is quite sad.

If that were all the was to Observe And Report, it would be near impossible to like the film. But the final act, as with most comedies about put-upon men, features his redemption. It ends on a high, with Ronnie just as offensive as he ever was, but somehow more likeable for the fact that he’s found a bit of happiness and succeeded just a little bit. I doubted it to begin with, but by the end it’s clear that the film really does love its characters, and the humanity found in some of the darkest corners of its jokes lifts it out of the purely cruel and into the genuinely funny.

I laughed a lot in this film, but I think I was the only one in the cinema who did. It’s not for everyone, and for the first half or so I wasn’t sure if it was for me either. But taken as a whole, Observe And Report is a film that seriously pushes the limits of what you can joke about, and it succeeds.




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