David Ayer writes and directs the acclaimed End of Watch, a look at the life of two LAPD cops, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.
You know the found footage sub-genre has really taken off when it goes outside its parent type; The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity categorised it as horror, whereas Cloverfield and Chronicle slowly drew it into sci-fi territory. Now it has truly fledged beyond that into the mainstream, as End of Watch, a cop drama, dabbles with its use.
The film is written and directed by David Ayer, a man who has almost exclusively focused his career on this area. This has ranged from the mediocre (Street Kings) to the excellent (Training Day) and thankfully this follows in the latter category. Not to be overlooked are its stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, who give an outstanding performance as a pair of likeable and humorous cops.
The film follows Brian (Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Peña), partners in the LAPD, as well as best friends. They patrol the gangster-ridden South Central area, balancing their jobs with their personal lives; Brian and his budding relationship with Janet (Anna Kendrick), and Mike with his wife and children. They experience the highs and lows of the beat until one day they became targets of the Mexican cartel after uncovering their handiwork in some grisly murders and human trafficking.
Its found-footage and shaky-cam style enjoys varying degrees of success; jarring at first but at the same time providing an interesting documentary feel, like a fly-on-the-wall perspective. It’s all very tenuous as to why we even get this point of view, mainly due to Brian recording his daily police life for a film project, with the bad guys also filming themselves for no apparent reason. The style is then altogether abandoned towards the end, more likely because Ayer couldn’t figure out how to incorporate the viewpoints in the chaotic climax.
Even as this style brings a touch of realism to it, it’s Gyllenhaal and Peña’s brilliant chemistry that really shines and displays the convincing nature of the film. They may not have deep or profound dialogue, but they certainly have witty, believable and engaging conversation, albeit sometimes difficult to understand with the amount of slang bandied around. Testament to the actors though, Mike and Brian’s love and respect for each other genuinely feels like it has been built up rather than forced. It’s not Riggs and Murtagh, and neither would you want it to be.
The fact that we see the human – and normal – side to these officers highlights the importance of the scenes involving the bond between the secondary characters; from their superior to their colleagues to their loved ones. The emotional investment made in the two protagonists during the culmination of an intense, heart-stopping shootout will have you glued to the screen and put you right to the edge of your seat.
Yet it’s all not flawless; the Mexican gangsters are stereotypical to the point of comical (the less said of the female antagonist, the better), and, although you’re not sure most of the time where the film is heading, you can guess how it will end for our two heroes.
However, take nothing away from it; this is the cop equivalent of The Hurt Locker. It’s an emotional, funny and gripping spectacle – most importantly it has heart. End of Watch is a must-watch.
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