Sunday, 7 February 2016

Three Great Movies About... L.A. Cops

A weekly series in which I watch a bunch of movies and pick out three of the best, each week a different theme and always spoiler-free. Published every Sunday.

My L.A. crime season continues with part 2, focussing on the poor souls who are employed to keep law and order in the city's endlessly violent gangland neighbourhoods: the officers of the LAPD. I went through quite a number of films for this theme, including many poor ones, and others like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential which are great but more noir than modern cop stories. I ended up with three very different titles - one’s a brutally honest representation of life in the job, another a gripping detective versus criminals heist movie, and finally a comedy classic. No I am not talking about Police Academy 6.

End of Watch (2012)

A particularly powerful drama that follows two LAPD officers, Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena, as they go about their daily police routine. Except in L.A. nothing is routine. The film probably depicts the most realistic movie version of what policing in such hostile neighbourhoods is like, not that I'd know, but at least it feels like you're watching something real. This is helped by the film being largely presented as footage shot by the cops and criminals using camcorders and body cams, an unusual style that I thought worked well for the most part. Mostly though this is a film that is made by the performances of the two leads, plus Anna Kendrick who is adorable as Gyllenhall's girlfriend. It's a film that takes police work seriously and presents the officers as real family people risking their lives for a living, rather than two dimensional corrupt alcoholic robots (though I want to see that movie), and that's why I think it's one of the best cop films Hollywood has ever produced.

If you like End of Watch, I also recommend David Ayer's other L.A. cop story Training Day (2001). Additionally there’s the excellent tv drama series Southland, which has many similarities to End of Watch. It’s flown a little under the radar but is really very good indeed. So you've got something new to watch now Breaking Bad is finished.

Heat (1995)

This centres on a detective, Al Pacino, and his attempts to bring down of a group of high end criminals planning a daring multi-million dollar bank robbery in downtown L.A. It's the sort of story I find hard to resist, it’s so well paced with the story weaving between Pacino's struggles to balance the pressures of work and family life, and the sharp criminals (lead by Robert De Niro in his last great role - twenty years ago!) who seem intent on succeeding even if it means blowing to bits everyone who gets in their way. At nearly three hours it's way too long, there was an obvious point long before the end where things could have been wrapped up, but making it through the last half hour or so is worth it for the final wordless image. Michael Mann really knows how to make movies, or at least he used to, and this is a great companion piece to last week’s Collateral.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Just like returning to my favourite Christmas films each year, this one fills me with nostalgia. Eddie Murphy's performance as Axel Foley is legendary, the Detroit cop who ends up in Beverly Hills on a murder investigation, causing all sorts of chaos along the way. Obviously this entangles him with the Beverly Hills Police Dept, rather than LAPD, but as we're still within LA County territory it still fits the theme. I'm surprised how well this has stood the test of time, I still find it funny and Eddie Murphy's laugh is utterly infectious. It's the little comedic touches that I love, like the banana in the tailpipe, and the guy who makes the espresso with a lemon twist*. When the iconic theme tune kicks in around the ten minute mark, it feels like coming home after a long trip away.

*I've never had lemon in coffee before. Sounds odd, possibly disgusting. Must try it sometime.

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