LFF 2012: END OF WATCH Movie Review
End Of Watch does to the crime genre what The Hurt Locker did to the war genre back in 2009, providing a stunning glimpse at the everyday lives of two Los Angeles Police Department officers on the front line.
The new film from director David Ayer (writer of Training Day and director of Harsh Times) follows officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala as they respond to distress calls, manage hostile suspects and rise to various other challenges that their tough job entails. It presents an honest look at the fascinating and often harrowing world of law enforcement from the life or death situations officers can suddenly find themselves in to the political hierarchy they must frequently navigate.
But as much as End Of Watch focuses on the day-to-day procedure of being a police officer it never loses sight of its two main characters. The film’s highlights, in fact, come not from its suspenseful crime fighting scenes but the terrific exchanges Taylor and Zavala share as they cruise the tough streets of South Central Los Angeles. Its humorous and heartfelt portrayal of the brotherly bond that grows out of staring death in the face is remarkable to behold and both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play their roles superbly.
Sadly, what stops the film from reaching the heights of its aforementioned soul mate The Hurt Locker is David Ayer’s execution. He decides to shoot End Of Watch as a found footage film (it’s explained early on that Brian is taping his squad for a part-time filmmaking class) to heighten the realism by literally putting you in the squad car alongside the officers. The car chase scenes are shot through a squad car camera, for instance, while Taylor fits a small camera on both he and Zavala to capture their every move. However, as well as being slightly contrived, this approach puts inevitable limitations on what Ayer can achieve with the narrative, so the director soon begins to blend it with a traditional shooting approach to compensate for this.
The 50/50 balance of both makes for an irritating experience, especially when the film is constantly reminding you that you’re supposed to be watching real footage although you’re clearly not. Ayer should have either owned up to the restrictions of found footage and shot it all traditionally or bit the bullet and fully committed.
Nonetheless, End Of Watch remains a tremendously fresh take on the police genre that (aside a Mexican drug gang subplot used to give the film a narrative thread) drops the clichés and conventions to provide a powerfully authentic insight into the reality of those sworn to protect and to serve.