Review by David Geraci
I’ve literally had to endure every Fast and Furious movie, because aside from Paul Walker’s baby blues, my girlfriend fancies David Ayer’s jacked up version of reality. Hence, it was no surprise that when I suggested we see Dredd3D I ended up front and center for End of Watch. But by the movie’s end I had no regrets. Of course you can’t escape the trademark themes of David Ayer: gang violence, a kick ass crime-solving duo, and a gold plated AK-47 (coming to a gun rack near you). Yet the testosterone-heavy bravado of all those Vin Diesel films never quite made it into this one. Instead, Ayer evades the whole good cop, bad cop machismo mash-up and takes a more realistic approach.
End of Watch is filmed primarily with a camcorder and hand-held camera by the officers, making it the latest film of the found footage genre. And we all know what this can do for horror films – now think of what it can do for films based on (or grounded in) reality. The effect is powerful; everything is intensified with an in-your-face urgency. This works duly for compelling dramatic scenes as well as gritty action ones. Of course this style of storytelling can be cumbersome; after all, you wouldn’t want to bring your hand-held into a burning house during a harrowing rescue attempt. So how else would you get the footage? And for that reason, Ayer explains why combining found footage with normal operating cameras was the logical move: “The script started as a pure found footage kind of thing. In pre-production, I gravitated very quickly towards augmenting that stuff with normal operating cameras. In editing, I had all this footage, which me and my editor built the movie out of, with never worrying about genre expectation.” And he was right not to worry – the movie worked beautifully without sticking to one genre. The pitfall with found footage movies is that it’s the chief selling point, and that leaves you wondering “who’s holding the camera now?” End of Watch avoids this by being indiscrete about it.
The movie takes place in South Central Los Angles, a predominately Hispanic environment plagued by poverty and violence. Police officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are partners and BFF: pretty much sticking their damn crime-sniffing noses where they don’t belong. This inadvertently gets them into trouble with a Mexican drug/human trafficking cartel. When word gets out of their persistent – sometimes unauthorized – investigations into such matters, a bounty is placed over their heads. Essentially the crux of the film rests on the relationship between the two officers. It’s kind of like a cop drama bromance of sorts… with intervallic discussions of love, life, and relationships peppered in between.
There’s something poetically offhand about End of Watch. The candid bond between the two officers drives the movie, not the violence. This dynamic casts Ayer’s stylistic approach in a refreshing new light that transcends cop movie clichés. There’s nothing overreaching or gimmicky about the relationship, either. The kinship evolves naturally over the course of the film without twisting the viewer’s arm to like them.
End of Watch is a wonderful, well-crafted box office film. If you’re anything like me, and you use Rotten Tomatoes to gauge your viewing preference – no matter how low they rated your favorite movie – End of Watch scored an audience review of 92%. And if that’s not a deal maker, ask your girlfriend what she wants to watch.