Release date: March 18th, 2013
Running time: 109 minutes
Writer and director: David Ayer
Composer: David Sardy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick
The LAPD get a tough time in movies, especially if they are written by David Ayer. Accusations of corruption and racism linger in filmic representations and the memories of many movie-goers. Depending on your viewpoint, the police either deserve great respect or damning admonition. My thankfully limited experiences with the police have generally been positive and though I’ve never had dealings with the LAPD, I like to believe that all cops are human beings and like the rest of the population there are plenty of good and bad apples. David Ayer has chosen to focus on a pair of the good guys for his next cop thriller End Of Watch.
You know those reality cop shows on TV where we get to see real footage of cops engaged in high speed chases and busting criminals? End Of Watch takes stylistic cues from these shows, introducing us to two LA cops, Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) who roam the streets of South Central carrying a camera and getting in far too deep with the drug dealing cartels that control the area.
Found footage might be a much maligned genre but films that are taking the old horror clichés and applying them to new genres are becoming increasingly popular. Chronicle took superheroes and gave them cameras to telekinetically operate and before that Cloverfield gave the monster movie a good shake up with some shaky camera action. End Of Watch introduces the idea of cops with cameras as Gyllenhaal’s Taylor films him and his partner on their eventful daily rounds.
David Ayer’s script and direction cleans out cop clichés and freshens up found footage techniques by disregarding the convention of having characters continuously shooting with cameras. Sometimes we see from their perspective but other times we get a break from the shaky cam action with epic swooping aerial shots. It works because there’s a consistent documentary style to the shooting that makes this a most realistic of cop thrillers. Nevertheless End Of Watch is filled with wild cinematography that takes us on a ride along with the two foul mouthed cops.
Though the film does nothing progressive for race and gender representation, it crucially creates a pair of extremely amiable characters that you really start to care for. A departure from the corrupt cops of director Ayer’s previous scripts Training Day and Dark Blue, this film takes a much more sympathetic look at the boys in blue, showing their dedication, bravery and camaraderie under extremely tough circumstances in the face of vicious cartels and gun-toting gang members. The character development of the villains and also the wives of the cops is almost non-existent but the banter and chemistry of the two leads makes this easy to sit through till the end of watch, despite Zavala’s grating sexist language.
It’s a blessing the relationship between Taylor and Zavala is so strong as there’s a great deal of time to be spent riding alongside the partners between the busts, gunfights and discovery of dead bodies. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are superb as the sparring, swearing and bantering buddy cops with loads of heart beneath the college kid language. The months the actors spent on ride-alongs with real cops and in rehearsal pay dividends with the dialogue feeling easy and improvised. With such a strong performance from Gyllenhaal, the underrated Peña may still have to wait for the role that will rocket him to the A-list.
The soundtrack provides glamorous hip hop from Public Enemy here switched on its head as the police roll out to the fanfare of Harder Than You Think. Hey Ma provides a deliriously romantic moment on a road trip to Vegas in a rare moment where the officers are off duty, Gyllenhaal’s Officer Taylor taking new girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick) to Vegas and their sing along to the song is so utterly believable and relatable that it is no surprise to hear it was an improvised moment. It’s a real shame that Kendrick isn’t given more to do as her role is hugely underwritten but she still manages to easily charm with her limited screen time.
The climax sees Taylor and Zavala in way over their heads as they have proved to be far too adept at making big busts for the cartels that control the drug trade. While providing a sensationally exciting climax with, director/writer David Ayer gets beneath the bravado, the bravery and the brashness of the boys in blue. Fuelled by superb performances, realistic dialogue and a fantastic soundtrack, End Of Watch is a cop thriller with everything you expect from the genre and more. By the end of your watch, the film will have made you laugh and cry and all from the precarious position of the edge of your seat.
Peter is a film and media lecturer and currently writing his PhD thesis on found footage horror movies. This means he must endure all sorts of cinema’s worst drivel in the name of academia. If that wasn’t punishing enough, Peter enjoys watching films with brutal violence, depressing themes and a healthy splash of tragedy.
If Peter isn’t watching films, he is writing about them, talking about them or daydreaming about them. He regularly contributes to Media Magazine and a range of film websites. You can find his film blog at www.ilovethatfilm.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @ilovethatfilm.