Bi-polar mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt is called into action to stop a flasher from turning shopper's paradise into his personal peep show. But when Barnhardt can't bring the culprit to justice, a surly police detective, is recruited to close the case.
Observe and Report was a film I was really looking forward to seeing in 2009. It was my radar film because I had no idea what to expect. It could of been a simple comedy about a loser who does loser things ala many of Rogen's past films. OR it could of been an edgy character study film with a humorous tone like they were pitching to the audiences in the trailers.
Unfortunately we got more of the simple comedy. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Most of the simple comedies on TV and in film are some of my favorites. But the situation with Observe and Report is that it's trying to be two things at the same time. It wants to be edgy but it also wants (perhaps out of Hollywood necessity) to be a commercial comedy for the masses.
This is an interesting film to watch when discussing TONE in a movie. Each great film has great tone like a great song or poem does. It's that underlying rhythm that keeps us engaged almost to a trance state when done well. TONE is the hardest thing to accomplish on screen and usually the better the screenplay, the easier it is to accomplish. The beginning shots set up the world in a movie and the audience will believe and settle for anything they give us. But only when the rhythm changes for some reason is when we get bored and/or turned off by the film. The rhythm must stay the same from the first to last shot and it can't ever go out of tune. If it does, then the audience is lost.
At the same time, if you look at recent commercial and critical successes in movies, you will find that the more GENRES (Comedy, Drama, Horror etc..) it takes to describe the movie, the more successful it is. People like to watch more than one film but there needs to be a TONE that always remains the same no matter how many genres are mixed into the film.
Observe and Report never found its tone.
There's a scene at the halfway point of the film that really defines this movie. Our lead (Seth Rogen) and the detective (Ray Liotta) are having a conversation in the detective's office. He's going to give him bad news and think it's going to be funny so he let's his colleague hide in his closet to witness the exchange. Halfway through the scene, the colleague walks out of the closet and says "I thought it was going to be a lot funnier than this. But this is really just a sad exchange. I have to go."
And that's Observe and Report in a nutshell. Certain parts in the film were shot to make us laugh, but it was more sad than funny. And certain parts in the film were shot to for dramatic purposes, but were actually funny. Comedy is a mix of laughter and sadness BUT you always have to find that balance and the balance can never lead to the sad side or else you're in trouble.
There is also a lot of awkward transition shots in Observe and Report. And that's probably just a coverage problem for the director. They need to move to the next scene but didn't shoot the two interlocking sequences that's needed for a smooth transition. We end up leaving scenes a lot early than we expected in some moments and then we stay in certain scenes much longer than we really want.
I'm not saying that this is a bad film. It's just a confusing film. I wished they just went all the way and made a modern day Taxi Driver. Because I think that's what they were looking to do. But no matter how insane the world was from Travis Bickle's point of view, it was still the real world from the other character's point of view. Travis was the only insane one who was a little over the edge. In Observe and Report ALL the characters are a bit insane. But I guess they would be because they do work at the mall, don't they!