Movie Review: Observe and Report

Despite not really liking Foot Fist Way, I took a chance on Jody Hill's follow-up, the dark comedy Observe and Report.

Both of his films follow the same general pattern: an unlikable protagonist blusters his way through the entire movie without ever becoming truly sympathetic. This contrasts with a traditional comedy plot that would show the main character evolving and ultimately transcending his faults by the end of the movie.

Of course, great movies aren't made from traditional plots. Another movie with a similarly irredeemable protagonist is Taxi Driver. In fact, Observe and Taxi Driver are very similar structurally. They both feature an unstable man with delusions of grandeur; an awkward romance that ends badly; increasingly erratic behavior culminating in surprising violence; and an equally surprising return to apparent normalcy at the end of the film. It's that last bit that makes the movies feel so much alike -- all the crimes of the climaxes are washed away in the dénouements.

But two things distinguish Taxi Driver. First, when Bickle finishes his shooting spree, he collapses on a couch and tries to kill himself -- this moment of vulnerability confirms for the audience that he's insane. Second, the closing scenes of the movie give us hints that Bickle will explode again. (Some believe the finale of the movie is so deliberately absurd that it must be a fantasy sequence, but Scorsese has confirmed that it was intended to be real.)

We're given so such hints in Observe. Ronnie is clearly psychotic by the end of the movie, but the movie never acknowledges his psychosis. He shoots a harmless man, denies him medical care, and triumphantly drags him to the police station; and the movie ends with Ronnie returning to his old job.

It's good to defy genre conventions, and I admire Hill for not taking the easy route. But it doesn't work. We never get any room to breathe because the movie never strays from Ronnie's point of view. We get relatively few cues to reassure us that the mall cop really is crazy; instead, we get a lot of sociopathic behavior and almost no commentary from the film about whether the behavior is good or bad. (The same was true in Foot Fist Way.) It becomes claustrophobic after a while -- we're trapped inside the main character's delusion. All of this is effective as a tool for making us share the protagonist's megalomania (in the same way that Memento's inverted structure made us feel like amnesiacs); but it doesn't make the movie very enjoyable.

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