David Ayer is possibly best known for the great film Training Day. That film starred Denzel Washington as a corrupt narcotics cop who was more gangster than the gangsters themselves. Washington was that good in the film he even won himself an Oscar, which was a huge achievement at the time as Training Day was not seen as Awards worthy. What Ayer done there though was create this huge world and stripped it bare to focus on two characters that made that world theirs. End Of Watch is a return to this type of movie. It is a big world shown through the eyes of two LAPD cops. The leads aren't detectives, they're not corrupt, or heroes, they're two ordinary guys going out to work and doing their job in a neighbourhood full of gangsters and drug movers. In the very first scene Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Brian Taylor, states in voice over that he is a cop who will arrest you but shouldn't be judged for that as it is his job to detain those who break the law. He claims he didn't write the law or may not even agree with it but it is his job to uphold it. He finishes by reminding us that he is still human underneath the badge. This sets us up for the film brilliantly as that is what it is; two guys at work doing their job. Problem is they are two little pawns in a much bigger world.
The film opens then following Taylor and Z (Michael Pena) as they chase a vigilante through the streets. When the vigilantes are caught they open fire on our cops in their final attempt to flee but the partners are all for it and upon firing back kill their targets. They are known in their division for having a unique way of dealing with law breakers. There are many scenes where their Captain is berating them for killing someone when they could have detained them. Problem with Taylor and Z though is that it is the action that gets them going, and they are good at what they do. As they continue on with their jobs we witness the pair parading the streets in their cruiser and responding to 911 calls. Each call has something different but in small doses leads to the bigger picture which causes them to be green lit by the top drug cartel operating in the area. Their arrogance leaves them unfazed but the cartel have tricks up their sleeves and soon are in all out pursuit against the two cops who are threatening to destroy their whole operation. As well as their day jobs we see the partners in their own environment. Z has been married for years and is looked up to by Taylor for finding his perfect woman. Taylor does finally meet his match though in Janet (Anna Kendrick) and we see him change from the player to the family man. More than anything else this film is about the partners and touches the themes of police officers being humans too.
The film is mostly shot hand held with invisible static cameras still picking up some of the action. It isn't a found footage film in the style of Cloverfield or is it ordinarily shot like Training Day. This film crosses them both over and we see most of the bromance shot via the hand held cameras. The excuse for this is that Taylor is taking a film class and wants to document his job. He films as much as he can without being told off and even attaches mini cameras to his and Z's uniform. Other ways of it being filmed are via the in cab cameras in their cruiser, which is where we see most of the partner's interaction. When the cop's find themselves in a situation where the hand held cameras won't work we are taken back to the ordinary style of shooting a film, although the photography is still the same gritty and realistic approach that the hand held cameras give. It is rather an odd film to take in really and I think that is due to the camera choices. It isn't a found footage movie but at times highlights that it could be by having the characters talk directly to camera. When we cross to normal practice it can become slightly confusing as we are now spectators of the story as opposed to being part of it. I find it a slightly odd way of portraying this film and think it would have benefited more from being one or the other. At times the technique works, and it is a unique way of doing it, but at other moments we have what feels like thrown in scenes of the cartel, who are also using hand held cameras. Scenes like this felt slightly out of place and when the camera wasn't following the main two characters you questioned as to who was filming the other scenes. It should have remained one or the other. This camera technique also removed much of the story. As a matter of fact it removed all story as there wasn't one. The characters were the story and, although it was a great way to show their relationship, at times it felt like I was watching a documentary of two LAPD cops. It isn't till the final third where the story actually takes place and they are hunted by the cartel, before that it is just two cops responding to calls and having a social life. It works in showing the partner's connection but at times I was waiting for that incident that sent the cartel after them.
There are some negatives with the film but there are also some big positives. The two lead actors are great in their roles. Both are like real cops and not actors which maybe the reason as to why this feels so much like a documentary. They are so believable as cops from their language, their stance, and their attitude. The writing, direction, and acting really bring a good sense of this police world and you really will believe you are part of it. The film may lack any real plot but the characters connection and the acting make you route entirely for these characters. The film is all about them and you care for them so much that the end goes out with a bang. It ended in such a good way that it blew me away. Despite the fact it lacked any plot, the way Ayer chose to bring it to a close made me feel like I had watched these two cops their entire lives and I cared about them. It was like watching two friends just going out to work and getting on with life, not like we were watching a film.
End Of Watch does have some great moments. It is brutal and realistic at times, one scene showing a cop with a knife in the eye, but let down with parts being cliched and unrealistic, the two cops run through a barrage of machine gun fire and one only gets hit in the hand. With the great moments though it has negative moments and in the end I feel like they evened each other out. I loved the main characters but had little care for anyone else. Their on the job banter was brilliant but never believed their out of work connections. The cops were realistic but the gangsters were highly cliched. The camera worked in establishing the characters but failed to pick up any real story. It seems like for every positive there is a negative which is a shame as there is something quite unique about End Of Watch, unfortunately though there is only so much knocking on people's doors and stumbling across a crime that an audience can accept and in the end I wish I was gripped by the story as much as I was the characters.
Pros: Unique idea that shows some realistic action. Some scenes are highly brutal that really shock you.
Cons: Interchanging camera at times can be confusing and lack of any real plot.
6.5 / 10
Top 10 of 2012 so far:
1. The Dark Knight Rises 10 / 10
2. Argo 9 / 10
3. Skyfall 8.5 / 10
4. Silver Linings Playbook 8 / 10
5. The Hunger Games 8 / 10
6. Snow White And The Huntsman 8 / 10
7. Avengers Assemble 7.5 / 10
8. Looper 7.5 / 10
9. Ted 7.5 / 10
10. 21 Jump Street 7.5 / 10