End of Watch is the found footage cop movie. Brian Taylor is a beat cop who is taking a filmmaking class (which is mentioned in one line and then dropped immediately) and decides to document his life for the class project. Using a basic handheld camera and, separately, tiny lenses that attach to the uniform pockets, he films life inside the station and more importantly, life as a cop on the streets. Not once is it explained why the footage is of this nature (at one stage it crosses the line into dating service advertising) and we’re irritatingly expected to just accept it as is. The opening chase/shootout scene is shot from the police car camera overlooking the dashboard and it plays out like a scene from Grand Theft Auto - given we’re not here to watch a videogame it’s a little embarrassing but it doesn’t end there.
After the migraine-inducing opening thirty minutes the film starts to kick up another gear. It’s where the film accepts it is nigh-impossible to cover the necessary angles for this drama with just a couple of cameras and turns the found footage approach in another possible angle with that shot by the invisible camera. The approach is completely necessary (poorly chosen angles can only be entertained for so long) but ultimately renders the personal viewpoint useless and writing this a few hours after the final credits I still don’t understand why they even bothered including it to begin with.
The best moments of the film are when they’re not cops and are just two buddies hanging out and talking shit. Here we see the real human side under the uniform. These two uncover some real nasty stuff in the streets of Los Angeles – ranging from human trafficking to a horrific drug den – and are touted as heroes for rescuing a couple of kids. They’re incredibly human and director David Ayer reveals the two appropriately as such.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Brian embodies the typical male late twenties/early thirties - a macho hothead that wants to take down the big bosses of the neighbourhood and have a pretty girl by his side as he does it. It’s a great performance from Gyllenhaal who has really struggled to do anything worthwhile since Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain. Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) is the yin to Brian’s yang. They look out for each other and Mike is an inspiration to Brian as he has everything he’s after – settled down with the love of his life and no desire for anything else. Played fantastically by Pena, Mike and Brian share a great chemistry and it’s easy to buy them as best friends forever.
I was ham-fistedly praying for a certain ending to this film, one that I honestly would have added another star for, but instead we’re delivered a rather conventional finish that’s not exactly lame but if you’ve seen one cop film in your life then you know what to expect. This is all interspersed with a cartel sub-plot that almost borders on racism. It reaffirms certain stereotypes and although you need a certain kind of character to be your bad guy, there’s little class here in how they’re demonstrated as such.
If you can get past the awful found footage editing of the beginning, Ayer rewards you in spades. You get a real feeling for these two cops as human beings and the remainder of the film is great entertainment. The far superior Harsh Times, also directed by Ayer, makes End of Watch feel like chicken feed at times but it’s still worth the 110 minutes of white and blue escapism.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gylllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo
End of Watch is released in Australia on the 1st of November 2012.