Monday, April 13, 2009

Man on Film: Observe and Report

While it may not have been the most evenly paced film, Jody Hill's second feature-length film was a step in the right direction. Much as nearly everyone involved with the film has stated, Observe and Report owes a debt to Taxi Driver of all films. If ever there was a film that needed to be reinterpreted through a comedic lens, it was Taxi Driver.

Not really, but it works here.

Ronnie Barnhardt, played by Seth Rogen (who flashes a little range he'd not been given a chance to show since, what, Donnie Darko?), is a person deeply disconnected from reality. His descent into, well, borderline insanity, is largely fueled by his having gone off his medication treating his bi-polar disorder.

Barnhardt is a self-important, power-tripping mall cop who flagrantly abuses his authority, but the abuse stems from a deep-seated belief that his role is to preserve order in his mall. The fact that he is completely incompetent totally evades his consciousness, and the audience is left watching him trying his damndest to catch a flasher, who is repeatedly referred to as a "pervert", which is pretty hilarious.

Maybe this doesn't seem like a film for everyone, but it seems as though Hill & Co. have truly honed the comedic anti-hero, taking it to a much darker place than, say, Will Ferrell fare in which the character is generally affably dim while being completely inconsiderate. As Kenny Powers and Fred Simmons before him, Ronnie Barnhardt is largely a dick. But he is a down-and-out dick. Hill adeptly captures these down-and-out characters with an insight to the life that most screenwriters do not possess.

For all of his strengths, Judd Apatow's films always have a fifteen minute coda of moralization. Hill's works do not necessarily reflect this ideal. While at times these characters realize their goals, they do not experience growth in doing so. It is this unflinching embrace of those wayward souls that is so refreshing, uneven pacing be damned.

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