It’s fitting that a common line of dialogue in “End of Watch” is “Turn that thing off!” Writer-director David Ayer, who penned “Training Day” and directed “Street Kings,” both also about LAPD cops, this time has Jake Gyllenhaal and partner Michael Peña document their every move with hand-held, lipstick, and car-mounted cameras. What is a terrible idea for a policeman (and Gyllenhaal is repeatedly told so) is a pretty clever idea for a movie, as it comments on the ubiquity of the visual image in law enforcement, gang culture, forensics, and interpersonal relationships. There is no master criminal to catch in “End of Watch,” no super villain established early on who must be stopped through police work. Exciting action sequences punctuate the narrative, but the overall goal of these cops isn’t catching a killer or rescuing a hostage; it’s establishing a family life and making it home safely. Excepting the cops of “The Wire” or “Hill Street Blues,” whom we got to know over dozens of hours, the policemen of “End of Watch” are more fleshed out than celluloid usually allows for. Gyllenhaal once again establishes that he’s one of our most compelling actors. Peña is also great in this affecting film.
“Dredd,” or “Die Hard in a Dystopia” sets the cinematic record for the graphic depiction of bullet exit wounds. In a post-apocalyptic future, we’re told that the only line between civilization and chaos are the judges, armored super cops who are allowed to execute bad guys on-site. The latest recruit in the war against everything and everybody is Anderson, a rookie who does not wear a helmet lest it interfere with her psychic ability. She is teamed with Dredd, who does not speak above a raspy whisper lest he get himself expelled from Christian Bale Voiceover Academy. The pair must fight their way out of a housing complex ruled by a sadistic drug queenpin named Ma-Ma (Lena Headley). Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson actually experiences some character growth in the course of the slow-mo carnage. But Dredd, as played by the lower third of Karl Urban’s face, is as stoic and static as can be. Delivering adrenalized action sequences and an aggressive body count, “Dredd” takes the genre to new places, possibly ones requiring PTSD counseling.
Charlie in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is the type of high school freshman we’ve encountered before—smart, shy, overshadowed. But his hell gives way to hedonistic Valhalla when he meets the outlandish Patrick (Ezra Miller) and beguiling Sam, whose physical appeal can best be described as “Emma Watson.” The geek has fallen in with freaks and, quite frankly, it seems kind of fun. To be fair, Logan Lerman’s Charlie has things going for him that the normal Michael Cera–esque sweet-sad-sack type does not. Charlie is handsome and physically strong. He has some vaguely referred-to blackouts and psychological problems, but we’re told about these hardships, not shown them. Director Stephen Chbosky’s script is respectful of its characters, and while the climax isn’t a catharsis, you feel you’ve taken a worthwhile journey. There is a sharp turn in the third act, which is jarring in the moment but on reflection is largely earned. The movie also treats a late-breaking revelation as a “Sixth Sense”–like explanation for all we’ve seen before. It would have been better to play it as but another layer of character development in a nicely textured film.
Catcher-cum-quipster Bob Uecker once said, “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up.” With “Knuckleball!” directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg have not just picked up on the nuances and quirks of this dervish of a pitch—they satisfyingly explore the relationship between pitch and pitcher. Think about this: a documentary not about a sport, or a team, or a player, but about a single type of pitch, one technique for holding a ball, and the weird, often random directions it takes afterward. Throwing a knuckleball is about gripping hard—with the fingernails, actually, not the knuckles—and then letting go. Stern and Sundberg get the gestalt of it all, following knuckleballers Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey during the 2011 season. The film is produced by MLB Productions and, as such, not only benefits from great archival footage but by its very existence is an assertion of the value of preserving a perverse pitch.
Mike Pesca is a correspondent for National Public Radio and a panelist on the podcast “Hang Up and Listen.” Screen Grab columnist Tim Grierson will return Sept. 27.