Director: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, David Harbour
Written by: David Ayer
Running Time: 109 mins
Release date: 23rd November 2012
The television schedules nowadays are crammed with police dramas, each of them trying to win audiences over with something a little different. So a new police drama on the big screen has to try something new to get an audience too. David Ayer’s End Of Watch attempts to mix the “found footage” format with a tale of street cops everyday lives. Does it work? Not really, although the film does have one ace up its sleeve.
Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala are cops in LA’s notorious South Central area. Friends since the police academy, they are partners at work and buddies for life. Taylor decides to film their normal working days as part of a “course” he is on. Their working day includes having to deal with all kinds of brutal crimes and also shake up a Mexican drugs cartel, leaving them wide open to be targets.
Ayer’s film sets out its stall within the first few minutes. Imagine the TV show Cops if it was filmed by the cops. A reasonable idea, even if we are in for 109 minutes of shaky camera work (if you suffer from motion sickness, look away from the screen!). The problem is, this is only partly a found footage film. We see Taylor explaining about his actions and what he is trying to do; he even gives his partner a camera clipped to his shirt. Yet it continuously cuts away as if someone else is filming it. So it’s like reading a book that starts off as if it’s written in the first person then suddenly changing to a third person, then a second, then a first. This bothered me, which meant that I wasn’t emoting with the story and I wasn’t emoting with the characters.
The story is a shambles. It works as a snapshot of police work, when they are actually doing police work. Some of their discoveries are shocking while others are mundane but you can’t have excitement all day, every day. And yet these two cops seem to have that. The Mexican cartel storyline seems so contrived, and only exists to get an emotional finale.
Then there’s the villains. The street gangs seem strangely clichéd now. I am sure that there are characters out there who cannot speak a sentence without 101 variations of the F-word but it is not looking tired and boring. Then again, almost every character cannot converse without swearing, as if they have just learnt the words and need to let the world know it.
There is one saving grace within the messy tale: the two leads. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Taylor and Zavala are excellent. Their relationship seems real. The chemistry is there and the film is at its best when we spend time with the pair, conversing in their cars or playing pranks on their fellow officers. You are never sure if they are improvised or written. Either way, you are longing for more of this and less of the cartel stuff.
When the film finally ends (and it does seem longer than its running time), you are given a massive, if slightly predictable, blow but then a tacked on ending seems out of place with what has happened. It’s a badly misplaced piece of editing.
One final word. I am shocked that the film has been passed 15 in the UK. The language is incredibly strong and the violence is both shocking and grisly. I seriously think that the BBFC have got this one badly wrong.
Fans of the genre will obviously get something out of it but I certainly didn’t. It only worked thanks to the leads, otherwise this is a tired looking film and I craved to get home and watch episodes of Hill Street Blues.