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Case Number 17311

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Observe And Report

Warner Bros. // 2009 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 22nd, 2009

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All Rise...

You didn't bring enough pigs to stop Judge Patrick Bromley.

Editor's Note

Our review of Observe And Report (Blu-Ray), published October 7th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

Right now, the world needs a hero.

Opening Statement

Yes, two movies about mall cops were released this year. No, Observe and Report isn't just the ruder, raunchier version of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. It's something much, much more.

Facts of the Case

Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) is a mall security guard, and he takes the job very seriously. When a flasher begins victimizing patrons of the mall—including Brandi (Anna Faris, Lost in Translation), the vapid makeup-counter girl that Ronnie has a crush on/is obsessed with—Ronnie decides to take him down by any means necessary. Unfortunately, a police officer (Ray Liotta, Cop Land) is also on the case, getting in the way of Ronnie's investigation and generally making him angry. You don't want to make Ronnie Barnhardt angry.

The Evidence

Could 2009 be the best year for movies in a decade? I think so. I'm not sure a month has gone by where I haven't seen at least one movie likely to end up on my 10 best list at the end of the year—August actually had a few. It's across all different genres: Coraline was my animated film; Inglourious Basterds was my war movie; Star Trek was my event-film blockbuster; The Brothers Bloom was my heist movie; Adventureland was my teen movie; for science fiction, I've got my pick between Moon and District 9. The best comedy released this year? That would be Jody Hill's Observe and Report.

I'll admit the film took me by surprise. I wasn't head over heels about Hill's debut film, The Foot Fist Way (though, to be fair, it may be because it was hyped up as the second coming of comedy by guys I respect like Patton Oswalt—who, incidentally, has a bit part in Observe). It was a fine movie and demonstrated that Hill (along with his muse, Danny McBride of Eastbound & Down) possessed a unique comic voice, but felt kind of repetitive and sloppy. When the trailers for Observe and Report started showing up, I was intrigued—they were pretty great, and I like Seth Rogen enough to have given the movie a chance. My mind was officially blown, and I came out of the theater hailing the movie as a masterpiece.

Hill throws down the gauntlet in the opening seconds of the film, scoring the shots of American mall culture (which, to his credit, he doesn't spend too much time with; it's merely the film's universe) with The Band's "When I Paint My Masterpiece." That's just what Hill does, and what Ronnie does, too—the movie is a perfect symphony of pent-up rage, outbursts of shocking violence and incredibly uncomfortable comedy (comparisons to Taxi Driver are apt). There's very little about the movie that plays out exactly how you'd expect, making it difficult to really discuss without spoiling. Take, for example, a scene where Ronnie is left to his own devices in a dangerous part of town and confronted by a gang; I know exactly how it would unfold in 98 percent of American comedies, but the way Observe and Report handles this moment is indicative of just how it gets everything right. You're shocked by it, but at the same time it makes perfect sense in the context of the film, which is seen completely through the prism of Ronnie's mind (there is some debate as to whether or not moments like this really take place or he's simply imagining them, though I think Hill's playing it straight). Writer/director Jody Hill proves himself to be a comedic formalist on par with Wes Anderson—every shot is perfectly composed and heavily stylized (dig the slo-mo!), and every song on the soundtrack is deliberately chosen for maximum effect. He's a real-deal comedy auteur, and it's exciting to see such a specific distillation of a filmmaker's voice in a genre as typically generic as comedy.

I'm gushing. I know. Part of it is because I can't understand how more people failed to see the greatness in Observe and Report. Part of it is because I know exactly why the movie failed to find an audience. I love it when a movie divides people.

I also know that even fans of the movie may not agree with me (they would have preferred McBride in the role; he does show up in a bit part), but I thought Rogen's performance was kind of revelatory. This is the first time he isn't playing the smart-ass—the guy who's faster and funnier than everyone in the room. Ronnie is disturbed and more than a little sad, and Rogen isn't afraid to make him as uncomfortably unlikable as the character calls for. It helps that the movie was shot prior to Rogen's weight-loss makeover; the extra poundage makes him more physically imposing and the look is better for the character. It's a fully-realized performance, not just a funny guy playing it dark, and Rogen is terrific. Ably backing him are Anna Faris and Ray Liotta, both playing equally unlikable characters (though in totally different ways) and still managing to be really funny. Only Michael Peña (Love Object) goes too far over the top, crossing over into garish caricature.

The Observe and Report DVD presents the film in good-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer; the colors are very rich and stable throughout. Because of Hill's perfectly stylized compositions, this is a comedy where the visuals really matter and the disc doesn't let them down. The 5.1 audio track handles the dialogue just fine in the front channels, balancing it out well with the film's excellent rock soundtrack.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Warner Bros. hasn't seen fit to include a single extra on the DVD. Not even the theatrical trailer, which is awesome. How is this OK in 2009?

Closing Statement

I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, but Observe and Report is not a movie for everyone. It's going to divide audiences, and there are many people who will really hate it. People will claim it's too dark and too mean and, worst of all, not funny. A lot of that is true: it's dark and mean and, in the words of Sarah Silverman, pushes comedy as far as horror movies are being pushed these days. Not everyone is going to respond to that. Those of us that do will find greatness in the film.

The fact that there have been this many divisive movies released this year I'm going to take as a good sign; it means that there are filmmakers who aren't just making movies for everyone. There are distinctive voices making movies for distinctive audiences. I liked Paul Blart just fine, but its success versus Observe's failure at the box office ought to clue you in as to where American audiences are at in terms of what they want from a comedy. Well, they can keep their Blart. I'm going to be watching Observe and Report for many years to come. It's one of my favorite movies of 2009.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 88
Audio: 84
Extras: 0
Acting: 92
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb
• Official Site

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