Tag Archives: Peace Officer

Best Movies of 2015

It’s January 2, but top ten lists are still cool, right? Here are my favourite films of 2015.

The Keeping Room

10. The Keeping Room

I was surprised how much The Keeping Room stuck with me after seeing it at TIFF 2014, since it is in some ways not much beyond a standard home invasion thriller. But something about the setting, the actresses, and the tone left this one lodged in my brain all year. Director Daniel Barber creates a tense thriller that also manages to be a slow-burner, which is always a combination that I admire. Meanwhile, screenwriter Julia Hart crafts a script more nuanced and revealing than the film’s plot-driven story should allow. Combine all of that with the film’s absolutely gorgeous use of lighting and you’ve got an atmospheric and unforgettable cinematic experience.

LA

9. Little Accidents

I watched Little Accidents relatively early in the year and really enjoyed it. I was surprised to find how much it stuck with me as the year progressed, from Boyd Holbrook’s breathtaking performance to director Sara Colangelo’s delicate handling of material that could have become very melodramatic. I really don’t understand the largely negative reviews.

Peace Officer

8. Peace Officer

I saw documentaries about Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin this year (both of which were excellent), yet the most captivating and charismatic non-fiction subject of 2015 for me was easily Peace Officer’s William “Dub” Lawrence. (Dub is pictured above in his younger days.) The hook of Peace Officer is that Dub is a former sheriff who instituted Utah’s first SWAT team… and then 30 years later watched that SWAT unit kill his own son-in-law. However, the film spends relatively little time on that incident, then branching out to explore the drastic increase of police militarization in the United States. It’s a captivating and extremely timely exploration, and also extremely strong as far as documentary filmmaking goes. I personally left the theatre shaken, and I can only hope that more people will check out this vital film.

Sils Maria

7. Clouds of Sils Maria

What a wonderfully beguiling film from the great Olivier Assayas. I’m not sure there’s another working director this good at exploring the process of aging and what it can do to a people at any stage in life. Clouds of Sils Maria covers that territory more obliquely than Summer Hours or Something in the Air, but it’s no less captivating. It may be his best film yet.

Eden 2015

6. Eden

One thing that struck me about Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, having seen it over a year ago at TIFF 2014, is how difficult it is to represent out of context. None of the publicity stills from the film do it justice (luckily I found the website of the film’s still photographer, Carole Bethuel, for some lovely images that do capture the tone of the film), and the trailer seemed to be hinting at some sort of Greta Gerwig-driven romance film that just doesn’t exist. And indeed, listening to the synopsis about a drug-fuelled DJ from the ‘90s, nothing about Eden sounds spectacular. But with her third film, Hansen-Love crafts something that feels both sweepingly epic in its timeframe and achingly intimate in its scope. This is not a movie about the ‘90s house scene, but rather a love letter to the music from one (fictional) player within in the movement.

Far From the Madding Crowd 2015

5. Far from the Madding Crowd

Can all period pieces be directed by Thomas Vinterberg? At face value, Far From the Madding Crowd seems like it fits the costume drama formula, but Vinterberg offers his own subtle flavour. I loved everything about the film’s visual style, and it’s so much less stuffy than this adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel could have been. Romantic, dramatic, and smart.

Tom at the Farm

4. Tom at the Farm

This Xavier Dolan film has been kicking around for a while, but finally got a U.S. theatrical release after the success of his last film, Mommy. It’s funny that this is the one Dolan entry that struggled to find distribution, as it’s arguably his most accessible film yet. It’s my personal favourite of all his work, combining his visual flair with a Hitchcockian slow-burn thriller. The atmosphere makes it an edge of your seat psychological thriller, despite the fact that not all that much is happening. Whether you’re a Dolan fan or decidedly not a Dolan fan, don’t let this one slip by.

Mustang 2015

3. Mustang

I’ve already written about Mustang at length, but Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut feature is one of the year’s absolute best. It also makes an interesting companion piece with Crystal Mozelle’s documentary, The Wolfpack, also from this year, as both films explore groups of siblings coming of age in an oppressive household. Both movies are worth checking out, but despite being fictional, Mustang is the one with true, haunting emotional resonance, as well as a sly sense of humour.

99 Homes

2. 99 Homes

It seems that a running theme of this list is “unlikely thrill ride”, and 99 Homes follows that trend. From the intense eviction sequence early on straight through to the end of the film, director Ramin Bahrani crafts so much genuine tension from what is essentially a human interest story. The way he sets up the cat-and-mouse dynamic is so taught that I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. With Michael Shannon deservedly scooping up some Oscar buzz for his performance, hopefully 99 Homes will gain the audience it deserves.

The End of the Tour

1. The End of the Tour

This film is in no way a “thrill ride” in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it is virtually plotless and mostly is about two neurotic men having a few conversations with each other. However, I didn’t have a more captivating and ultimately moving film-watching experience in 2015 than I did with The End of the Tour. I could write a few thousand words on why I liked this movie so much, but for the sake of keeping things relatively brief, I’ll just say that everything – from Jason Segal’s revelatory to performance as David Foster Wallace to the film’s little gut-punch of a coda – is perfect in my eyes.

Hot Docs 2015: Peace Officer

Peace Officer 2
Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber’s new movie, Peace Officer, is nothing if not timely. The documentary takes a harrowing look at the increasing militarization of the police and the devastating effects of excessive police force. The story is predominantly related to the United States (and, indeed, seems painfully relevant in light of the recent examples of police brutality and the Ferguson and Baltimore riots) but even as someone who is not American, I found Peace Officer completely gripping and eye-opening.

The central figure of Peace Officer is William “Dub” Lawrence, an impossibly all-American former sheriff from Utah. Dub, as we learn, actually implemented Utah’s first SWAT team during his time as sheriff, and in an all-too-cinematic twist of fate, that same unit was responsible for killing Dub’s son-in-law some 30 years later. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Dub began a borderline-obsessive search for what happened on the day of his son-in-law’s death. (And as Dub and the directors gleefully point out, he’s far more thorough in his crime scene sleuthing than the police department was.) He also extends his services to other families in the area who have experienced similar violence. And there, we have our movie.

One thing Peace Officer is not is subtle. The bias of the directors is clear and they make no real effort to hide it. That said, they give the “other side” (read: the law enforcement officials) their chance to speak up. (However, the film’s “this-person-declined-to-comment” title cards may be more damning than any actual interview would have been.) And though filmmakers’ stance is clear, I appreciated the fact that for the most part they didn’t demonize the individual police officers; the film’s general perspective seems to be that it is more of a systemic problem, which is a far more interesting and complex issue to explore than the alternative, reductionist “cops are mean” style of argument.

And indeed, some of the information the movie presents is jaw-dropping. The type of equipment these SWAT teams are armed with is insane, as are the figures about the rising use of SWAT teams in general. And as we follow along with Dub’s journey and watch him piece together what likely happened in these deadly incidents of police force, it’s hard not to be moved.

Police brutality is a large, complex matter and even at nearly two hours long, the movie doesn’t feel like a definitive look at everything at play. Then again, it also doesn’t really need to be. It barely gets into the matter of race (though the “talking head” interview subjects do thankfully mention it). This is probably partly because the film only examined specific Utah-based incidents and partly because racial profiling is an issue in desperate need of its own thorough documentary.

Dub’s crime scene examinations often play out like a Hollywood thriller. Because of this and because of the harrowing nature of the stories it tells, Peace Office is actually one of the most intense movie-watching experiences I’ve had recently. It’s a straight-ahead style of documentary, yes, but Peace Officer proves that sometimes all you need is the meat-and-potato facts to tell an effective, affecting story.

9/10