So let me begin this review with a question for all those reading this right now:
Why do you go to the movies?
Is it for the spectacle and thrill of what you’re seeing onscreen? Is it solely for entertainment, or would you prefer to leave the theater ready to discuss some issue brought up for debate by the contents of the film? Does it vary from movie to movie?
I ask all this because Police, Adjective, a 2009 Romanian film that was met with enormous amounts of critical acclaim and two awards from the Cannes Film Festival, seems to have me stumped.
On the one hand, the film covers a number of topics, like the ethical choices made in police work, drug legalization, and the power of language, and it delves into some wonderful discussions of these topics.
But, on the other hand, the narrative leaves a whole lot to be desired.
I’ll continue in further detail once you hit “Continue Reading.”
So on the surface, Police, Adjective is an incredibly simple story. Cristi, our protagonist and a Romanian police officer, spends the majority of days doing slow, careful police work to build a case against a young drug dealer. As he gets deeper into the case (albeit not that much deeper, the case itself is pretty straightforward) Cristi starts to struggle with the ethical ramifications of bringing serious, life-ruining charges down on a young man when Cristi himself doesn’t see the selling of drugs (hashish, specifically) as that big of a deal.
Alright. From the way I’ve described this film (for those who haven’t seen it), you can probably guess how the movie plays out. Cristi investigates a lot of seedy drug dens, faces threats from violent dealers, and somehow fights his way through a climax that leaves Cristi feeling relieved/terrible because he didn’t compromise his moral fiber/totally compromised his moral fiber.
Not even close. That fake ending in the last paragraph is cheesy and terrible, yes, but it’s an ending that goes somewhere and has a clearly defined arc for the protagonist. Police, Adjective has a ton of issues rumbling just under the surface of what’s going on in the story, but what’s actually going on in the story is almost nonexistent. The majority of what we see on screen is just Cristi going through the everyday minutiae of police work- filling out paperwork, waiting outside a suspect’s house and hoping to see a new development, or trying to duck his boss.
It’s a novel idea- a police story that conveys what it’s really like to be a police officer and not the glamourous, action packed fantasies we see on TV and in the movies. And the film goes a long way towards making everything seem as realistic as possible- The dialogue is superb and is delivered in a way that feels exactly like average, ordinary conversations between average, ordinary people. The camerawork is almost entirely composed of medium shots with no camera movement whatsoever- the camera will occasionally pan to the left or right to follow an actor in motion, but that’s it. That very (VERY) minimal camera movement almost gives the impression that we’re watching security camera footage- it all combines to create one of the most true-to-life films I’ve ever seen.
But here’s the problem- real life isn’t necessarily interesting. And the vast majority of what we see in Police, Adjective just isn’t interesting. When the philosophical undertones of the movie actually bubble up to the surface (when Cristi and his wife or his boss discuss the meanings of language and life) the film becomes fascinating and often touching, but those moments are rare oases in a desert of monotonous, frustrating nothingness. Most of the film is watching Cristi sit and wait for things to happen. He waits for his drug dealer suspect to leave his house. He waits for his girlfriend to finish listening to music so he can talk to her. He sits and waits for minutes on end to speak with his boss.
It’s one thing to have a movie that moves at a slower pace. It’s another thing entirely to have a movie with a plot and a lead character that go nowhere. And I don’t want to sound like that guy who’s dismissing anything that doesn’t end with a hundred explosions at once. I’m not that guy.Hell, I’m working on a review of Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel, if you’re thinking of challenging my surrealist art film credibility (sorry- I couldn’t not go there).
But a film needs something. It needs conflict. It needs a character who overcomes some kind of obstacle. Police, Adjective just doesn’t have any of this. And now, if I may circle back to my original point (and who’s gonna stop me? It’s my blog), I worry that I’m missing something that the people who showered this film with praise and awards somehow didn’t miss. Maybe if I knew anything about Romanion history or politics or language.
But I don’t. So I guess I’m stuck with my dislike of Police, Adjective.
I tried. I really, really tried.