SKIP Seven Psychopaths, the gangster comedy from writer/director Martin McDonagh. The unusual set up fails to deliver either an interesting story or enough laughs to sustain the film.

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Seven Psychopaths, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell
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Seven Psychopaths is an ambitious film that tries to blend the cool toughness of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction with the insider hipness of Robert Altman’s The Player and the dark comedy of the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading. Sadly, the result is a mishmash of underdeveloped vignettes tied together by a somewhat pointless story.

Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell play highly unlikeable protagonists, the former an alcoholic plagiaristic screenwriter and the latter a two-bit criminal who has a dognapping-for-reward business with his oddball partner (Christopher Walken, who seems like he’s doing an SNL inspired impression of Christopher Walken throughout the film). When the pair swipe a Shih Tzu belonging to a mob boss (Woody Harrelson, who is as brilliant as always), they wind up on the run.

There is too little cohesion and character development here for this film to work, and the only truly charismatic character is Harrelson’s. As a result, half the characters wind up getting killed off before we know enough to care and most of the ones who are left are either annoying caricatures or just plain annoying.

The gangster comedy genre has never exactly produced great films (does anyone consider Get Shorty a classic?), and this film demonstrates the many reasons why the genre frequently doesn’t work. You’d be better served watching McDonagh’s more serious film, In Bruges, or one of the classics I mentioned above, in particular The Player, a film that is too consistently overlooked.

SEE End Of Watch, the outstanding cop drama from writer/director David Ayer. This truly exceptional film is gripping, powerful and steeped in gritty realism from start to finish.

Shot mostly in documentary style, End Of Watch delivers almost unprecedented realism in its look at a pair of LA patrol cops (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena). The film probes both their professional and personal lives, and makes us care deeply about these characters before proceeding to place them in grievous harm’s way when they run afoul of a drug cartel’s operations in the city.

Just as Ayer’s previous cop drama, Training Day, relied on the interplay between Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, End of Watch leans heavily on the chemistry between Pena and Gyllenhaal and the two actors respond brilliantly.

On the job: Pena and Gyllenhaal
End of Watch, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena
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Natalie Martinez and Anna Kendrick add a human dimension to the leads as their wives, and America Ferrera stands out, playing a female officer with much more toughness than I would have thought America Ferrera could project.

End of Watch is at times poignant and then powerful, vulgar yet sensitive, violent but proportionate. It is one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and it forces me to wonder how it could have been completely passed over during awards season. Is it because on the surface this is an action film? Seriously? End of Watch is an action film in the same way that Saving Private Ryan was. It’s a powerful drama that happens to take place in an action setting. Do yourself a favor and don’t pass this one up.

ALSO ON DVD:

YOUR CALL on Dredd, the adaptation of the comic book futuristic law enforcement story of the titular anti-hero. The film features terrific visuals and a great post-punk score from Paul Leonard-Morgan, but its inventive story is hamstrung by a lousy script, which keeps Karl Urban, Lena Headey and Olivia Thirlby from doing much with their characters.

YOUR CALL on Compliance, the indie film adaptation of the true story of a prank caller who persuaded a fast food manager to first detain, then invasively search an employee. The story is slow moving, but the film gets good performances from Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker, and if you’re a fan of the small scale indie, this one will be for you.