End of Watch (2012)
Director: David Ayer.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour, America Ferrera Frank Grillo, Maurice Compte.
Run Time: 109 minutes.
End of Watch, written and directed by David Ayer, is an unconventional cop film, using a documentary style to capture life for the police in South Central Los Angeles. The two cops we follow, Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Peña) record their patrols for Taylor’s film school project, resulting in many shaky-cam chases, officially recorded in-car POV shots, and inane ‘banter’ (God, how I hate that word). At first glance, it’s an interesting premise, helmed by a director with pedigree for gritty and real cop thriller/action films (Ayer wrote Training Day and directed Harsh Times), and given a fresh slant in the ‘home movie’ filming style.
The best phrase I can use to describe End of Watch is ‘close, but no cigar’. An episodic, almost vignette style plot could have been a real revelation as a postmodern critique of modern American policing, but is let down by the weak plot, characters and dialogue. The main strand is introduced far too late for it to work, allowing the plot to meander its way towards a really enjoyable action packed final act. By then of course, it’s too late to recover.
The documentary style jars after the interesting opening, becoming a pointless novelty. The ‘film school project’ execution of this idea is ridiculous and never mentioned again. The idea would be better suited if the two officers weren’t the documenters, then the techniques (like the in-car police camera footage) could then be used to accentuate the gritty plot and frantic bursts of action, and capture the natural conversation between the patrolmen. Instead, by using it as a plot device, too much focus is placed on it, which culminates in the frankly baffling decision to have the Hispanic drug cartel and African American gangbangers film their exploits too. The explicit idea of the cops filming themselves would have been better left in the beginning, while implementing these techniques afterwards as a purely stylistic choice.
The two leads do have good chemistry, but there isn’t really anything to write home about here. There is nothing spectacular on display. The dynamic does work and there are genuine moments of warmth and humour (actually I laughed a fair bit), but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. I think the reason for this is down to the glorification of the police and an oversimplification of the characters. It’s all a bit 80s, full of gung-ho bullshit that largely passes without consequence for Taylor and Zavala. This bravado lacks any real emotional depth for most of the film, leaving us with quite one dimensional characters. It paints the two as ‘the good guys’ and everyone else as ‘the bad guys’, which is not always the case, as police procedural dramas such as The Wire shows us. This feels quite at odds with the gritty and postmodern approach, and also at odds with Ayer’s past work on Training Day and Harsh Times.
In essence, End of Watch is a great idea poorly executed. It could have been a solid addition to the cop film canon. You have a solid lead in Gyllenhaal to put bums on seats, and Peña plays his foil ably. The grit and realism of Ayers’ past work displayed in an exciting and new format also could have made End of Watch an instant classic. What we are left with however, is a film that felt quite bland and pedestrian, with a lack of any real direction. The poor plot is pretty much condensed into the trailer (an unforgivable trend which has been sweeping through cinemas for a while now), and would have only needed tweaking slightly for it to work. The individual parts of the film failed to cohesively create something greater than their sum. This isn’t to necessarily say that I hated it (in the way I did with Argo and Lawless), just that it was a little bit ‘meh’, and could have been miles better. You’d all just be better off finding a copy of Training Day and watch that instead. Or Weekend at Bernie’s II. Fucking love that film.
If you liked this, check out: Training Day, Harsh Times, Street Kings, S.W.A.T.
Score: 6 out of 10.
I enjoyed this video a million times more than End of Watch, and as the trailer ruins the best bits of the film thought it would be best to show you it instead