We all know that the POV style cinematography or the ‘real camera footage’ style had been making waves in the horror genre recently. Lately it had been used for a party movie and two sci-fi films that made that style necessary to tell its story. Well, writer/director David Ayer tries that style with “End of Watch”, a cop drama that deals with the mechanics of being a cop. I remember Ayer as the writer of “Training Day” and “U571”, both excellent movies in their own right under another director on its helm. Ayer is a great screen writer and it wasn’t until “Harsh Times” and “Street Kings” did he get the director’s chair. I do have to say, Ayer has the talent for going into the depths of crime through the eyes of the bad guy or in this flick, through the eyes of two cops.
The film is about two cops whose beat is somewhere in South Central, Los Angeles. Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) patrol some of the most dangerous streets of L.A.. Brian likes to record their exploits with his handheld camera, sometimes using hidden ones mounted on their uniforms. It is all about a ‘project’, and really, it sure helps when you need to justify the use of your firearm. The two are what you may call either dedicated, gutsy or cowboys as they seem to find trouble wherever they go. Things become much more complicated when they stumble on the turf of a major drug cartel and they get in way over their heads. Now they become targets.
David Ayer makes use of the POV style cinematography even as he uses the footages that move from camera to camera. From security cameras, to patrol cars’ HD cameras, to handheld cams and even to the gangs’ own cameras, Ayer shapes the film with several editing tricks that gives the film a sort of a ‘fly on the wall’ realism. None of the camera shots are stable, and so it may be a little difficult to catch everything that is going on. He doesn’t make them necessary to create tension as he sometimes goes for the more standard cinematic shot; it just gives the film a feeling of authenticity that I enjoyed.
True, the film carries what we have come to call ‘cop themes’. Cops have their own sense of brotherhood and loyalty towards each other. Some treat it as a job while some really take their oath to heart. Ayer wisely gives the viewer a look of what it is inside and outside, on duty or off duty, the life of a cop. Taylor and Zavala are seen tending to their duties inside the HQ and on the field, as we catch glimpses of their personal lives. Ayer did a marvelous job in humanizing the characters. They feel real, their interactions natural and they are definitely human, able to feel fear, doubt and even act on certain emotions.
What really made “End of Watch” work was the strength of its dialogue and screenplay. The dialogue just shines while Taylor and Zavala rides their patrol car, they bicker, they joke, they talk; there is a frequent sense of humor that comes out from their exchanges and it is the kind of talk that we hear when two people are very close. It was almost as if the viewer was ‘eavesdropping’ and this gave the scenes a very legitimate sense of realism. Ayer was also able to balance the dialogue between the tense action and the more dramatic scenes in the film. Ayer adds several scenes that defines its two protagonists outside their duties as a cop. Not being hampered with everything that had been crafted in its ingenious screenplay, Ayer could quickly change gears without any issues and the transition between those scenes felt smooth and natural.
The film also has its share of graphic imagery. The gun battles may be a little limited, but once Brian and Mike go from one spot to another, this is where the inherent gritty atmosphere takes over. The set pieces were well conceived, it was easy to be convinced that the viewer was indeed on a ride with two cops as they go from one cartel hideout to another. There were some very gruesome images as the aftermath of a torture and homicide were perfectly staged. Human trafficking also turns its ugly face in this film, as shots of human abuse make its way to the screen. Ayer does not allow such imagery to take over as he smartly uses the emotions of each scene to show its details. Make up and practical effects were done admirably to further communicate the very real perils of being a cop. Cops are human and they are not invulnerable.
Gyllenhaal and Pena perform marvelously as the two cops. Their delivery of their dialogue almost felt like they were improvised, that they felt very ordinary that it all comes off as very believable. There was no unneeded ‘dressing’ with the manner they talked, it really felt like some brotherly banter. The script also allows for some development as they interact with their ladies. Mike is married to Gabby (Natalie Martinez) while Brian is romancing Janet (Anna Kendrick). Their participation in the screenplay may seem limited but their relationships were interplayed into the dialogue which gives our characters additional depth.
Despite the fact that I liked the screenplay, I could not ignore several plot holes in the film. I just could not see as to how the gangsters were able to identify Brian and Mike as the cops responsible for their headaches from what was shown in the screenplay but I could safely assume. I also thought that several needed subplots took a back step in favor of some unnecessary ones. I also felt that this movie would’ve benefited if it was a little longer. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it sure was easy to become immersed in the film. The character development established a powerful finale that defined exactly what it meant in being a cop. With a solid script, exceptional dialogue, likable characters and realistic set pieces, “End of Watch” is one of the better cop dramas out there. It is close and personal as you could possibly get in a movie to being a policeman. It has a few flaws but definitely a worthwhile watch that it gets a recommendation from me.[4- Out of 5 Stars]
Star Rating: Earlier this year saw the release of Chronicle, which proved that the concept of the found footage mockumentary could be applied to a supernatural teenage drama and not just to horror movies. Now we have End of Watch, which proves that it can also be applied to a police drama. Much of what we see is captured on personal digital camcorders, police dashboard cams, and surveillance cameras pinned to the characters’ shirts. Even when the point … more
'Training Day' starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke is one of my favorite 'cop' movies. It was written by David Ayers and now...once again...Ayers continues his fascination with the 'Men In Blue' with his new gritty drama entitled 'End Of Watch'. This time his focus isn't on police corruption, but on the every day life of the men and women who patrol our streets and put their lives at risk on a daily basis … more