Saturday, 10 November 2012

All Cops Are Bastards

Or are they?
One curious theme on this year's festivals is the overflow of gritty crime films which look at the never-ending struggle between the police and thieves, hooligans, gang members, drug trafficers and terrorists. Some have bad policemen working in a morally grey area, while some are just ordinary workers doing the best they can in tough situations. It's not easy to match the smartly built world and explosive action of Tropa de Elite — the go-to modern classic of the genre. But that didn't mean that these films weren't captivating to watch. I already reviewed No Rest For The Wicked from Love & Anarchy, which would also otherwise be included here.

A.C.A.B. - All Cops Are Bastards (Italy/France)
Director: Stefano Sollima
Love & Anarchy - Helsinki International Film Festival 2012

Not that many interesting films come from Italy these days (I wonder if this could be because someone has a monopoly on all media and won't fund movies unless they are made for his own TV networks). Occasionally, when a decent one comes around, it's a news item in itself. When the director is also the son of the legendary Leftist spaghetti western director Sergio Sollima, everyone pays twice as much attention.

Nevertheless, the story of riot cops could perhaps find no better setting than modern Italy. With the economy in shambles thanks in large parts with the insider deals of fat cats, the hot-headed Mediterranean national character, and the large-spread passion for football, makes a riot police force's job more than necessary in a day-to-day basis. Yet as it is often with autorities, these cops are also more than willing to misuse their power, take down people who they don't like and reap other benefits attached to their job. We know from the news that for instance the 2001 Genoa G8 meeting resulted in large-spread police brutality around protesters. The movie challenges the viewer to ponder whether there is truth in the name of the film.

Thus we are also thrust into the world by the viewpoint of a rookie, Adriano (Domenico Diele). An idealistic young cop, he at first idolizes the more experienced members of his new squad. Cobra (Pierfrancesco Favino), Nero (Filippo Nigro) and Mazinga (Marco Giallini) are a tight-knit group that doesn't allow outsiders, and who are used to do things their way without anyone telling them to soften up. Adriano must choose whether to corrupt himself as another force-using aggressive power abuser, or to stand the contempt and wrath of the rest of the group. Or die.

The film depicts the riot police to be sort of the society's garbageman, being sent out to take care of major social and structural problem by hitting angry people on the head. The cops have to endure open hatred, for example in a football match where everything that's available to throw at them, is threwn at them. The film doesn't pick favorites among cops and rioters, but makes it clear on why either of them is working the way they do. The film is a tad too long and obvious, without major surprises. It's also a major draw that the societal critique seen through the eyes of a tough-as-nails police unit was so perfected by Tropa de Elite, that while this covers a bit of a different area, comparisons are inevitable.


End Of Watch (USA)
Director: David Ayer
Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3012

For a lot more positive portrayal of cops, there's the first feature film of the screenwriter of Training Day, David Ayer, seen (a bit surprisingly) at Night Visions Festival. Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are policing partners that are also best friends in their civilian lives. As anyone who has listened to their share of west side gangsta rap knows, the restless area around South Central L.A. is ruled by gangs and mexican drug cartels.

We follow the two cops around as they do their best to catch dangerous people around the area, usually who hate cops right down to their bones. In the middle Taylor and Zavala bicker, and talk about their love lives and mundane things. The single Taylor is starting to get involved on a new girl (Anna Kendrick) and their relationship is deepening. But once, on a routine call Taylor and Zavala stumbe upon an old house that hids brutally murdered bodies and major amounts of dope. Reporting on the place makes them heroes, but gets them on the Mexican drug cartel's Most Wanted list.

The film starts out by being based on the material that the cops themselves are shooting, whether for a TV show or whatever the in-story purpose. The actual purpose of Ayer is clear, to depict the police as both ordinary people, who live and laugh and love. And on the other hand, as heroic people who are willing to risk their neck out protecting the innocent, and doing what is morally right. These ideas are manufactured to give resonance on the tragedy about to unfold. It's a bit sad that Ayer cops out (har, har) on the last minute to make the ending a real gut-punch.

There's not much on display here that hadn't been done as good or better in numerous modern quality TV cop shows. Taylor and Zavala are quite well-rounded characters that have their good and bad sides, and are expertly acted out by Gyllenhaal and Pena. It's sad that the script over-emphasizes their heroism, and for instance the scene where they risk their lives rushing into a burning building to rescue children, goes a little over-the-top.

Along the way, the camera as an element within the story is more and more forgotten, we get fewer scenes of the characters talking straight to us, and more clearly directed angles. But the most important element in hand-held camera footage movies, the immersion tho the film's world and characters, has already been achieved.


Policeman (Ha-shoter, Israel)
Director: Nadav Lapid
Love & Anarchy - Helsinki International Film Festival 2012 

The most innovative police thriller I've seen in a while comes from Israel of all places. It's an action movie without a single action scene. It's also a two-sided movie, telling two vastly different but interlaying stories that comes together in the end. Many of the major scenes are not shown, but left to the audience to deduce. Most people walking in on a cop thriller would probably not expect such an intellectual, almost Haneke-styled approach, but it is very refreshing to see a genre movie thet relies on the intelligence of its audiences.

The first act of the film introduces us to the cops. Most of the time with them is spent at a barbecue with their families, or recreational activities, all smiles and happiness. Once in a while a racist comment pops up which makes it clear the speaker would like to shoot Arabs, but no one bats an eyelid. The cops clearly have rubber-band morality, since even with all the happiness of their family lives they are sex-hungry enough to go pick on random girls they encounter. It's revealed that one of them is having trouble with the higher-ups due to an act of violence on the job that is not specified. But all of them stick together and in the hearing all the other defend the accused. They all are eagerly awaiting for their next assignment, as they are the anti-terrorist assault squad.

The next act features ideological (Jewish) young people getting together to discuss the state of the world, how capitalism is ravaging the society, and their disdain for authorities. The youngsters are nice to help out a man playing guitar in the street corner by busting out some jams. They harbor secret crushes to each other. They seem like well-rounded nice people until it becomes clear that they idolize the Beider-Meinhof Complex. They are planning an act of terrorism, to kidnap several people at a rich woman's wedding and execute them if their radical leftist demands are not met.

In the third act, this plan is carried out, and the scenario followed to the end.

Policeman is an amazingly mature work from a first-time director, Nadav Lapid. The cold approach to major issues emphasizes a world where discussion is rueld out from the get-go and both sides believe the excessive use of force is the only way to get things across. The camera follows around coldly, only getting more dynamic in the very end, which makes the ending even more harrowing. This is a depiction of a society in a cul-de-sac, but it works. As such, it would deserve a less generic english name, though.


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