END OF WATCH Movie Review
“Found footage”, “P.O.V.”, “self-filmed”, “ghost cam” (whatever you want to call them) movies can be an interesting and original way of making a film. Spawned by The Blair Witch Project, they allow for a more realistic, gritty and immersive approach to filmmaking. If the story gives itself over to this technique it can produce some wonderful films that could not be made in any other way; Blair Witch, Clover field and Rec. spring to mind. However, 15 years on from Blair Witch this once original style feels over used and worn out. We have had films from almost every genre use the technique and in 2012 it has now become a relatively ubiquitous way of making movies. Using the technique instantly puts the film on shaky ground (pun intended). It is more restrictive than freeing, requires explanation and reason for every scene and shot. It is for these reasons that in the past few years there have been more bad “shaky cam” films than good. The good can only be filmed in this way and could not be made as straight films. The bad use the technique as a marketing tool or as a way to differentiate the film from others in their genre.
End Of Watch, the new film from David Ayer (Training Day, Harsh Times, Street Kings) uses the technique and falls into the latter category. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are two regular LA street cops. Gyllenhaal is (loose, slightly implausible explanation coming up…) filming his day to day life for a film class he attends (though we never see or hear about this after the explanation is given).
This works well as we see the brotherly connection between Gyllenhaal and Peña and the banter between the cops; some of the duo’s scenes are reminiscent of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (Vince and Jules) in Pulp Fiction though without QT’s trademark wit. Most of the film revolves around Gyllenhaal and Peña and they are entertaining and fun to watch. The tone and realism takes a downward turn when these characters are not on screen. The scenes in which Gyllenhaal is not on patrol with his partner and therefore not self-filming are shot in a similarly shaky, documentary style. This is what’s known as “ghost cam”; it’s made to look like amateur footage but no character is actually filming it and it is never made reference to. It seems to me that if Ayer wanted to make a film this way he should have either stuck to self-filmed footage taken by Gyllenhaal’s character or had the whole film shot in “ghost cam”, documentary style with no reference to who is filming. To mix these styles is jarring and confusing for the audience and actually does the opposite of what’s intended; it takes the viewer out of the action.
The “bad guys” of the piece, a Mexican drug and human trafficking cartel, get minimal screen time, are poorly written and rely mostly on stock characters and stereotypes. This is a shame as the illegal doings of this gang that Gyllenhaal and Peña stumble across are shocking and intriguing and when they first discover these activities it seems like this would make up the main crux and plot of the film. It doesn’t. The reasons and motivations behind the discoveries is never dealt with or explained. Detective work or attempts to catch the perpetrators are never shown or even hinted at. There’s a point where Gyllenhaal asks a senior cop for information but beyond that it’s forgotten. Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez as the pair’s love interest and wife respectively are similarly underwritten and seem to be cynically included just to drum up sympathy, heartache and talking points for our leads.
While it’s entertaining it’s certainly not one of the best cop films I’ve seen and ends up being pretty forgettable. Unless you’re an avid fan of cop dramas or Jake Gyllenhaal, End Of Watch is probably a don’t bother to watch.