Observe and Report has teeth, fangs even, tearing through tones while reveling in the mania of its unstable hero, head of mall security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen). This focus on absurdity allows Jody Hill’s film to take liberties with plot development while highlighting extreme mood shifts, constructing a modern artificial world based upon the need for power, consumerism, and control. Ronnie’s existence is a roller coaster of shock and awe, and the rest of the world stares on in amazement, in collaboration with the audience, wondering what to make of such an intrusive character.
Ronnie has delusions of grandeur, believing he’s actually a force to be reckoned with inside and later outside the mall. Even though every character sees Ronnie as a menace, or at the very least a nuisance, Hill never judges him no matter how insane the situation gets. But Ronnie often stands at the edge of mass murder, only to be pushed back by narrative convention, and Hill tends to gloss over these uncomfortable moments. Taking this character all the way might have been too much for mainstream audiences.
So the film boils down to the dreams of losers, the desires of bruised people living on the fringe of what modern society deems acceptable. Ronnie is one crazy bastard, but at least he’s a sincere, passionate bastard. Ronnie’s heart is in the right place but his methods are diabolical, terrorizing to pretty much everyone. But instead of sneering at this complex character with irony, Rogen incarnates Ronnie with a special verve for the unpredictable and the unending dedication to transcend outward oppression.
Despite his best intentions, Ronnie’s end-game involves brutality and conformity and this ideology leans toward fascism, making Observe and Report one frantic and disturbing picture. Hill wants both darkness and light, however in this instance the two go together like oil and water. Ronnie’s sentimental moments complicate the director’s vision of his psychosis, and this makes Observe and Report both interesting, uneven, and problematic.