David Ayer’s gritty cop drama puts us right at the heart of the action, and delivers an innovative new take on the old cliches.
On the face of it, there’s nothing particularly clever about the set-up of End Of Watch. It’s a fly-on-the-wall doco-style movie that follows two cops as they go about their duties in the blighted South Central region of Los Angeles. There are a few laughs, some drama, some gunfights, some tragedy.
The art of the film is in the way Ayer integrates mini-cam, dash-cam and Handycam footage into the film. It’s not exclusively shot that way, thank gawd. This is not a tiresome found-footage film. Ayer doesn’t sweat his central conceit–that hero cop Brian Taylor, played with bluff, alpha-male charm by Jake Gyllenhaal, is making a film about his experiences on the streets of South Central. It blends hi-def video with a wide range of lower-res sources to piece together a nuanced and frequently lovely view of the City Of Angels. He drops in footage from covert night vision stake-outs and material from the gangs that come to dog Taylor’s every move. Everyone is surveilling everyone else. There’s no need to be a fly on the wall anymore, because all the walls are made of glass.
Privacy has become a fluid and frequently pointless luxury in Taylor’s world. He’s happy to shove a camera in his colleague’s faces despite their obvious discomfort. But his life is subject to the same sort of unconscious openness. His girlfriend Janet (a lovely, unaffected Anna Kendrick) cheerfully goes through his wallet, removing his booty call list with a blithe “You won’t be needing that anymore.” The gang-bangers that target him for termination seem to have no problem in finding out where he and his partner are patrolling. In End Of Watch, secrets are almost redundant.
The relationship at the heart of the film is that between Taylor and his partner, Mike Zavala, a robust and sharply funny Michael Peña. The declarations of brotherhood, of the way that they swear to look after each other’s families if anything should happen are, to be honest, laid on so thickly that it gets a bit tiresome. The improvised scenes of the two cruising the streets and bullshitting make their devotion perfectly clear. These are, to my mind, the standout moments of the film, and Oscar rumours are already, deservedly, circling around the pair. The two of them have a future in stand-up comedy if they ever get tired with the acting gig.
End Of Watch works as both brutal, gory cop drama (Ayer doesn’t flinch away from some truly disturbing moments) and a wry, observant study into the lives of these cops on the frontline. The performances are uniformly excellent, and the story, although it ambles around some, still comes to a satisfying if devastatingly sad ending. It’s heavily telegraphed, but it’s a testament to the skill of Peña and Gyllenhaal, that you really don’t want end Of Watch to end in the tragic, inevitable way that it does. By putting us right in the middle of the action, End Of Watch puts you through the wringer in a way that few cop dramas manage these days.
End Of Watch is released in the UK on November 23rd. For further perspective, allow me to direct you to Kate’s take over on Moviebrit.