Film of the Week

End Of Watch, Friday, BBC Two, 11.20pm

Listen to the narration by Jake Gyllenhaal which opens David Ayer’s gritty Los Angeles-set police drama – there’s lots of stuff about “the thin blue line” and protecting the innocent – and any viewer mindful of the Black Lives Matter movement and the intense scrutiny American policing is currently under will find themselves waiting for a twist. Or a ‘but …’. Or an ironic reversal to follow. It never comes. Nearly a decade old now, Ayer’s film plays it straight, if by straight we mean two uniformed beat cops who more or less stick to the rules and serve as emblems of heroism and civic duty while drinking take-out coffee and swearing a lot (in stark contrast is Rampart, released a year earlier, in which Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt and racist Los Angeles beat cop, with the emphasis on beat). Still, you know where you are with Ayer: this is the man co-wrote the first in the Fast And Furious franchise and directed super-hero film Suicide Squad as well as Will Smith’s shoot-’em-up sci fi curio Bright for Netflix.

Gyllenhaal is Brian Taylor, Michael Peña his Hispanic partner Miguel Zavala, known as Z. We first meet them in hot pursuit of a vehicle and view the chase through dashcam footage which will later show them shooting dead both occupants. Taylor likes to document his day-to-day working life with a camcorder and early on both officers are issued with body cameras. Ayer makes extensive use of this material along with other types of ‘found’ footage (we see night vision surveillance of drug gangs, for instance) to create a collage of images. These he intercuts with spectacular static shots of Los Angeles at night (traffic, skyscrapers, neon lights) or at sunset (palm trees, orange skies).

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the rivalry brewing between two gangs, one black the other Hispanic, and the steady intrusion into Taylor and Zavala’s patch of South Central LA of an excessively deadly and violent Mexican drug cartel. Against this background we watch the pair go about their daily working lives and it’s this that makes the film. Gyllenhaal spent five weeks riding alongside Los Angeles police officers while researching the role and the banter between him and Peña sometimes feels too real to have been scripted. Not a classic, but well worth a watch.

Monday

Tulip Fever, BBC Two, 10pm

Orphan Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is raised by the nuns of St Ursula in mid-17th century Amsterdam at a time when the most precious and widely traded commodity is tulip bulbs. She reluctantly accepts a marriage proposal from wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), who will pay safe passage for Sophia's relatives to live in New Amsterdam in exchange for a male heir. Cornelis commissions local artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of his blissful union and the painter falls deliriously under the spell of virginal Sophie. Tulip Fever fails to burst into full bloom and features an oddly restrained performance from Vikander. By contrast, Waltz exposes the vulnerability and sadness of his "lucky old dog", enriching a potentially two-dimensional villain.

Tuesday

Elizabeth, Film 4, 11.05pm

Shekhar Kapur’s film examines the early life of Elizabeth I (the excellent Cate Blanchett), whose relatively care-free existence comes to a sudden halt when her Catholic half-sister, the childless Queen 'Bloody' Mary (Kathy Burke) realises it's likely her sibling will inherit the throne and try to restore Protestantism to England. Despite her grave misgivings, Mary only makes life difficult for Elizabeth and doesn't resort to executing her. When Mary dies, Elizabeth indeed takes the throne, and on being installed as ruler, realises she still has enemies both overseas and within her own court. Although some viewers may be expecting a dry, dull history lesson, this is a gripping, exciting drama that tells a fascinating story with real visual flair.

Wednesday

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Film 4, 9pm

CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) succeeds in shutting down the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). Subsequently, the hunters become the hunted when a shadowy organisation known as the Syndicate, fronted by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), targets IMF for extinction. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) covertly reunites with colleagues William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and computer hacker Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) to take on their foes. A stylish and slick fifth instalment of the action-packed franchise, bolted together with brio by director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton (Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service). If you only see 10 minutes, make sure it's the stunning Turandot action scene set at the Vienna State Opera House.

Thursday

Up In The Air, BBC2, 11.30pm

Corporate downsizing expert Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends most of his time flying around the country firing employees he has never met before because their bosses are too chicken to do the dirty deed. Ironically, Ryan is threatened with redundancy when efficiency expert Natalie (Anna Kendrick) puts forward a plan that agents should conduct the terminations via video conferencing. Meanwhile, the usually cool Mr Bingham, who prides himself on his lack of emotional baggage, falls under the spell of fellow jetsetter Alex (Vera Farmiga). Up in the Air elegantly navigates a path between the bleak and the wryly amusing, anchored by a charming lead performance from Clooney as a corporate middleman who loathes the prospect of standing still and is now almost numb to the anguish he wreaks.

Friday

When Harry Met Sally, BBC One, 10.50pm

Director Rob Reiner, writer Nora Ephron and stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are all at the top of their game in this wonderful romantic comedy. Harry and Sally first meet as recent college graduates who share the drive from Chicago to New York - and fail to hit it off. After a couple more chance encounters, they become friends in their thirties when they are both recently out of relationships, but will they take a chance on being more than just mates? The "I'll have what she's having" scene became an instant classic, but this film has plenty more memorable, quotable moments, some of them supplied by Carrie Fisher, who is on fine form as Sally's best friend.

And one to stream …

Stowaway, Netflix

HeraldScotland:

Toni Collette (left) and Shamier Anderson in Stowaway

Musician, YouTuber and television host turned screenwriter and film-maker, 33-year-old Brazilian Joe Penna isn’t short of chutzpah or ambition. On the basis of this tight, tense sci-fi drama, he appears to have the talent to match it. Enlisting helpmates of the calibre of Toni Collette is a smart move too, and a pleasingly discordant soundtrack from German composer Volker Bertelmann, who records as Hauschka, underlines the impression of a director with a vision.

Collette plays Marina Barnett, commander of a two year, three-person mission to Mars where a colony of some sort has been established. Her fellow Mars voyagers are biologist David Kim (Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim) and ship’s doctor and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). We’re in an unspecified year in the future and the mission is controlled and funded by Hyperion, a private company of the kind Elon Musk fancies SpaceX becoming. Or maybe not, because cost-cutting and payload upping for gain are going to be one of the themes driving what happens next: the discovery of a fourth person and the realisation that everything has been so carefully calibrated that there simply isn’t enough oxygen for four people.

The fourth person is Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), a structural engineer and member of the ground crew who somehow seems to have become trapped in the housing unit containing the CDRA (more of that in a minute) and knocked unconscious. He’s only discovered after the ship has docked with the centrifugal contraption which means the actors don’t have to pretend to float around, and after Barnett notices blood dripping from the ceiling. In the strictest sense, then, Michael isn’t really a stowaway. Neither is his stowing away properly explained. Is he what he seems, then? As the film rolls on, Barnett realises the CDRA can’t be fixed, which is a problem as it’s the kit that “scrubs” the carbon dioxide out of the ship’s atmosphere. David uses his algae to boost the oxygen levels but the crew have to resort to increasingly desperate measures to solve the problem. One is going to be giving Michael a lethal injection, which obviously raises one or two moral dilemmas.

Stowaway isn’t quite on a par with Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 Oscar winner Gravity, but the fact that it bears comparison is testament enough to its watchability.