Matt’s Review: ‘End of Watch’ Reveals the Gritty Side of Working the Streets for the LAPDBy
David Ayer is most well known for writing another gritty cop drama, one that took home Oscar Gold for Denzel Washington, Training Day. Ayer has written gems like U-571, The Fast and the Furious, and of course End of Watch, but he is also responsible for crap like S.W.A.T. and Street Kings. As you can tell, the man has an soft spot in his heart for cop dramas. This film is exactly what one would expect from Ayer, a gritty, unrelenting, realistic take on two police officers relying on each other to survive another shift working for the LAPD.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as best friends and partners working the gang-infested streets of South Los Angeles. The two share a bond and the ‘make a difference’ mentality that helps them get through the day to day happenings and the dangers of the job — their oftentimes heroic efforts bring medals and recognition from their department. But their blind ambition to do good causes them to trample on the territory and spoil an operation of a very powerful Mexican Cartel, putting a bounty on their heads.
The story itself is wonderful. It unravels like a good book, slowly revealing intimiate details about the characters and their friendship. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña as best friends rivals that of a buddy-buddy comedy, but with a lot fewer laughs and a whole lot more bloodshed and gritty drama. They goof around like two brothers, but have each others’ back in the field like soldiers. This sense of brotherhood makes all the scenes when this pair is in danger that much more tense — we don’t want any harm to damage this cherished relationship.
Both men also have strong anchors holding grounding them in the form of their wives. The wives, played by Natalie Martinez and the lovely Anna Kendrick, take on a fight of their own: holding their breath every time their men go out to patrol the streets. Every patrol could be their last. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie come when the two couples come together — the women add another dynamic as they reveal a side of their men that isn’t prevalent when the pair is roaming the streets.
While I believe David Ayer is on point with his script for End of Watch, I think his role behind the camera is no where near as profound. Ayer mostly employs the ‘found footage’ technique, using Gyllenhaal’s character Brian as ‘cameraman’ for a college documentary course he is taking. The most annoying angle of this presentation, aside from the abundance of nauseating shaky camerawork, was that sometimes it would be Brian’s hand behind the shot and others it was just the ‘invisible eye’ of the camera. And the film jumps between these two presentations without explanation.
See, in most movies the camera is supposed to be an invisible presence. Characters don’t (usually) acknowledge it, the camera can go into dreams, through walls, underwater, etc. In these found footage films, the characters acknowledge they are being filmed. What is disjointing for me from End of Watch is the role jumping from Brian the cameraman, to the invisible presence being filmed by (____?). Being on the job with Brian, his camerawork adds the gritty realism I was talking about. We are in Brian’s shoes — but then the camera is handed off to an unknown force (obviously the director and his camera crew). Think of Paranormal Activity — those films never leave the ‘found footage’ angle. End of Watch jumps between the invisible eye and ‘found footage’ with no regard for audience comprehension.
While this is obviously a pretty harsh critique, this element really steals a lot of thunder from this film for someone who studies the medium like myself. It feels like this project is missing the identity of it’s director — sometimes Ayer is there, sometimes he isn’t. While I know in reality he set up all the shots, this back and forth within the reality of the film feels more amateurish than planned.
One last gripe, End of Watch is extremely choppy at times. The film flows story-wise, but the transitions are sometimes jolting with odd cuts and a musical number dropping off a cliff. There are also misplaced scenes that don’t seem to work or fit into the whole of the story. A couple of times I found myself wondering, “Ok, so what does that mean?” The presentation of this powerful story is missing the hand of skilled editor (though Dody Dorn has been great in the past).
Overall, End of Watch is for any person who loves drama with the cop angle. This is definitely on par with Training Day (I like the film, but feel it’s a bit overrated) and has a tandem of actors taking the drama to another level like Denzel did. End of Watch has some dynamic moments ranging from tense fear to tender. The technical aspects aren’t going to bug some of you like they did me, so see it with high expectations.
What Should You Do? If you can handle a bit of motion sickness, see it on the big screen.