“End of Watch”
Cop movies, in general, especially the highly acclaimed ones, are much more predominantly about corruption in the police force. While there is of course truth in the major presence of corrupt officers, there is also a large amount of them who aren’t so, and do the job because they believe in the ideals it stands for. Buddy cop movies aside, the subgenre is notable more for the likes of “Serpico,” “The Departed,” and most notably “L.A. Confidential” than for movies such as the new “End of Watch.” Although our heroes in this movie aren’t portrayed as saints, it’s refreshing to be able to enjoy a cop movie where I don’t have to knock it down for not presenting the seedier side of them, particularly for the L.A.P.D.
“Watch” is a blend of conventionally shot scenes and the found footage style typically found in the horror genre. Officer Brian Taylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is taking a film course at a local college, and he’s filming his experiences out in the wild with his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Pena.) Through the use of a handheld camcorder, the hood mounted camera, and hidden cameras on their lapels, director David Ayer (who wrote the Denzel classic “Training Day”) find all kinds of vantage points to really put the audience in the perspective of this duo out on the gritty streets.
Ayer’s not entirely successful in his implementation of the shaky camera stuff. Often times, it’s much too chaotic and incomprehensible to follow, especially during close encounters like a fight in a criminal’s apartment. It was a grievance during the first half of the film, although Ayer’s hand becomes steadier and more coherent as it proceeds forward. The climatic firefight is intense and turbulent in all the right ways, with many close calls and nail-biting moments to put you on the edge of your seat. To emphasize the terror of the situation, I believe Ayer should have kept our perspective completely focused on Brian and Mike instead of occasionally cutting to scenes of the gang members plotting their revenge on our duo. The film would have attained a greater sensation of suspense and unpredictability, as well as editing out scenes with cartoonish acting from the gang members.
The heart of the movie is truly with the pairing of Gyllenhaal and Pena, who have remarkable chemistry together. From their first scenes together, the film immediately conveys their friendship genuinely and the playful bickering naturally. Improv must surely have been used for many of the “riding in the car” scenes, as the pairing doesn’t feel scripted and forced, but believable and organic. Their girlfriends, played by Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez, also do a great service to humanize and relate the pair to the viewer, even if they don’t have much effect on the plot.
By the end, regardless of those flaws, “End of Watch” successfully manages to hit its emotional beats and leave its imprint. This would not have been possible without the two incredible lead performances, as well as Ayer’s immediate and personal approach to the material. With its in-your-face style, “End of Watch” captures the chaos and grit that television shows such as “Cops” achieve on a weekly basis, and then one-ups them by personifying the officers behind the camera and creating an emotional connection that those shows haven’t really achieved.