Title: End of Watch
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera
Plot: Two police officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña)find themselves marked for death by the members of a local cartel after they confiscate a cache of money and firearms during a routine traffic stop.
Review: Honestly when I was going into this film I can’t say that I was exactly looking forward to it, especially when it didn’t seem to be exactly bringing anything new to the table with its police procedural setting, much less the fact that it is yet another found footage movie, a genre notoriously difficult to pull off let alone do well. Needless to say that within the opening five minutes I was left astounded by this film.
Written and directed by David Ayer who has had something of a mixed bag of a career as both a writer and director, having previous written the Oscar winning “Training Day”, “Dark Blue” and the star making Vin Diesel vehicle “The Fast and the Furious”, while as a director his most noteworthy film to date was the sadly overlooked “Harsh Times”, something he seems to be trying to correct with this latest offering which grabs hold of it’s audience and refuses to let them go as it takes them through a rollercoaster 109 minutes.
Shot completely on a mixture of handheld and chest mounted cameras aswell as additional shots from the police cruiser video and ariel shots from choppers, Ayer has here managed to build a fully immersive world in which to set his story and somehow has managed to achieve the impossible by actually making the format work to heighten the experience, rather than proving a continual distraction to the viewer as they have to contend with shaky camera and out of focus action shots, all pitfalls which Ayer manages to avoid with his choice of shooting method even going as far as to actually give us a valid reason as to why they are still filming, which in the case of the two officers at the centre of this story is as simple as Brian using the footage for his film making project something while the use of chest camera provides a much more steadier image than has been previous seen in found footage movies to date, while also giving us the thrill of getting first person shooter style shots during shoot outs as firearms are discharged, while the opening chase sequence shot entirely on the cruiser camera, makes for an equally thrilling ride.
Set in South Central LA, it is hard not to draw comparisons between this film and the TV series “Southland” with who it shares the same stomping ground with and certainly a similar style, as the two young officers find themselves continually having to deal with the worst scum he city has to offer, while at the same time walking their own line when it comes to dealing with upholding their law in their district, something especially highlighted by Zavala getting involved in a brawl with one suspect while being cheered on by an enthusiastic Taylor, actions which are surprisingly never called into question especially with Zavala and Taylor filming all of their actions, but then why at the same time are cartel members videotaping their own illegal activities? Ultimately it would seem that these moment are more for the benefit of the audience on terms of building setting rather than setting up key plot points.
Zavala and Taylor are much more than just partners as their partnership sees them more as brothers, than just close friends, for as much as they pick on each others flaws, they genuinely seem to care about each other, even to the point were they have death pacts so that they will look after each other’s wives should they die in the line of duty and it’s a bond which seems to help them survive so many of the horrors they see over course of each patrol they complete, with each shift only seemingly to bring with a whole new set of shocks for them to deal with, especially when even a routine welfare check on an elderly woman uncovers a mass grave of dismembered corpses, especially as he stranglehold of the cartel over he local community only seems to grow ever more stronger, despite the efforts of the police to stem its tide. Still there is no main plot line to the film or main bad guy to foil as Ayer instead sets the flm’s rythem to the day to day routine of police work, as Zavala and Taylor frequently find themselves walking a tightrope between bordom and bursts of adrenaline fuelled action, never quite sure what the streets will hold for them, as they try to make it to the tituar end of watch.
In terms of casting it is flawless with Gyllenhaal in particular reminding us that he is still capable of the same exciting performances he gave back when made “Donnie Darko” something that I have been waiting along time to see again, especially with his work in the mainstream lacking any of his earlier energy. Peña meanwhile proves to be equally watchable as he finally gets a more meatier role than he has previously been offered to date, while the real life research the two actors undertook in preparing for their roles which saw them completing twelve hour ride alongs three times a week with members of the Greater Los Angeles area law enforcement agencies, the first of which unexpectingly leading to Gyllenhaal witnessing a murder during the first of these ride alongs and something which seems to have benefit to both of the actors, as they convincingly portray their roles as officers on the beat, while the random conversations such as Zavala reeling off his shopping list of energy drinks he is carrying or questionable relationship advice only adding to the realism.
Once more Ayer has crafted more than your typical cop movie, while finally writing at the same level again that he was when he gave us "Training Day", as here he continues his ongoing obsession with law enforcement and those they oppose, while demonstrating once more that while the officers might belong to the brotherhood of blue, its one made up of many different shades. Easily one of the best films of the year while once more marking Ayer as name to watch.