A great, dark, gritty, cop drama.
A crime thriller of a disgraced cop who discovers corruption inside a police department and sets out on a mission to redeem himself.
What to Expect: Cop dramas are almost as old as movie making itself. The audience is always fascinated by a well woven police tale. These films usually enjoy success at the box office and the better ones will often go on to win Oscars. This is why I was so surprised that other than Live Free or Die Hard, we have not had a single major cop drama to hit the theatres recently. That is all going to change early next year when The Night Watchman comes out. This film has the pedigree to be amazing with David Ayer directing a screenplay by James Ellroy and John Riddley. Ellroy is one of the world's greatest detective story authors and Ayer has already won an Oscar for his movie Training Day. This is the first time the two are working together and the results should be pretty good.
What makes Ellroy such a great author is the fact that he makes every character feel so real. This realism comes from the fact that all stories draw inspiration from real life and this one is no exception. Watchman is about a vice cop who, after the death of his beloved wife, can only find solace at the bottom of a bottle. His life becomes cheerless, dark, and deadly until he is pulled back to reality when he is framed for a murder he did not commit. His descent closely parallels that of the author. In 1958, Ellroy's mother was murdered, which led him to spend his teens and early twenties drinking heavily, dabbling in drugs and crime, and spending much of that time either homeless or in jail. Ellroy used these experiences to create a very deep and well developed character in Tom. However, one must ask... if the script is so great, then why did it take twelve years for this project to see the light of day? One reason I can think of is that he used the OJ Simpson trial as a backdrop. Ellroy is an outspoken supporter of the LA Police Department. He believes that the cases of corruption in the department are no more than apparitions that are sensationalized by the "biased liberal media" in an irresponsible attempt to create news rather than report on it. This may have caused many studios to shy away from one of his scripts that discussed the polarizing trial and its controversial verdict.
Ellroy wrote the screenplay in 1995 soon after the OJ verdict was announced. He was quickly able to get producers Alexandra Milchan, Lucas Foster, and Erwin Stoff on board. Yet, the project stalled there. For the next 9 years they treaded the turbulent waters of Hollywood. At one point, Arnon Milchan produced Ellroy's L.A. Confidential, even though he used some of his own money just to keep it afloat. Finally The Night Watchman began to pick up steam very recently. In 2004, it was announced, that Spike Lee would direct it with the title Nightwatch for a 2005 release. That fell through, and then in 2005, Oliver Stone was rumored to direct. I am not sure how two of the most liberal directors in Hollywood, like Lee and Stone, were going to work on ultra conservative Ellroy's script. Well, Stone did not pan out and then in late 2005, David Ayer was attached to the project. Ayer and Ellroy have much in common. Ayer was kicked out by his parents as a teenager and moved to South Central LA where he got to experience the mean streets first hand. Ayer, like Ellroy, always uses LA as the setting for his crime dramas, giving them a sense of realism that can only be achieved by someone who has lived it. The two were able to secure a meager budget of twenty five million dollars and begin casting. At this point the title had been changed from Nightwatch to The Night Watchman to avoid confusion with the Russian Matrix bite-off called Night Watch. Ellroy and Ayer were able to leverage the great script and their reputations to put together a star studded cast with Keanu Reeves starring as Ludlow and Forest Whitaker as his corrupt sergeant.
Whitaker is a great actor, who is coming off his Oscar winning performance in The Last King of Scotland. Reeves, on the other hand, is probably not the best choice. I am not one of those people who outright hates Reeves, but I just do not think he is right as a macho cop. He did play a cop in Point Break and Speed, but in Point Break he needed to be an undercover surfer dude, which he is good at, and in Speed he needed to be a bomb expert. In this one he needs to be a big, intimidating street cop who can violently explode at any minute. The diminutive, soft spoken Reeves cannot intimidate a puppy, let alone LA street gangsters. Yet, contrary to my analysis, word on the set is Reeves is doing a great job and is totally believable as a street hardened cop. Another rumor from the set is that Kevin Ferderline also has a roll in this movie. This rumor was confirmed when we interviewed Amaury Nolasco, who said that Federline was on set, but he did not get to work with him. Luckily, E! has been reporting that Federline's part has been cut from the movie. I find Mr. Spears (Federline) extremely annoying, and I think he would have overshadowed a great movie with his presence, but I guess these days a cop drama needs to have a rapper. Therefore, Ayer cast Common in the movie, who at least can act unlike many of his rapper counterparts.
When all the casting was done, money became very short to the point that they could not even hire an Artistic director. Fortunately, Gabriel Beristáin liked the script so much that he took a significant pay cut to work on Watchman. Shooting finally started in 2006 and was completed in only nine weeks. There was not much money left for big stunts or perks for the stars. All the actors had the same small trailers with very little bells and whistles. Money had to be saved in every aspect of filming. This spartan approach actually had an unexpected positive result. It brought the cast and crew much closer together, bringing the best out of everyone.
In Conclusion: Two guys who really know crime dramas and LA, making a movie about police corruption in LA. Sounds like a sure formula for success to me. Ayer and Ellroy took a brilliant script, small budget and questionable actors to create a masterpiece. These types of movies usually do not make that much money since it is not a movie the entire family can attend. Yet, they will still make a profit and more importantly actually turn out to be extremely entertaining and thought provoking. Chances are that you will not be seeing anything new here, but you will still get an old formula done in an extremely entertaining way. And if you hate Keanu, maybe this movie will change your mind. If nothing else, it will be worth the price of admission!