Game boys – End of Watch review

End of Watch – Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, and Anna Kendrick. Directed by David Ayer. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

In an attempt to separate End of Watch from the rest of the ‘conventional cop movie’ pack, writer-director David Ayer has somewhat lazily framed it as a ‘found footage’ film. Police officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) carries a recording device as he makes the rounds with his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) in the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Sometimes, you can barely make out what his camera or their lapel-lenses are actually taping, so frantic and chaotic are their movements. Other times, Ayer abandons the technique entirely, indulging in helicopter shots, and sometimes showing us an impossible angle that could only be caught by an omniscient camera. Roman Vasyanov’s cinematography is nausea-inducing, literally. One patron at my screening reviewed the feature in the unique but still incisive manner of being sick all over himself.

Ironically, End of Watch does not need a gimmicky photographic device to be elevated above the rest. It achieves that with the fine performances from Gyllenhaal, Peña, and a cavalcade of co-stars that includes Anna Kendrick (as Taylor’s ever-cheerful girlfriend), David Harbour (a hardened, cynical beat-cop), and Frank Grillo (their troubled sergeant). Ayer’s script veers into very silly territory when dealing with the Hispanic gang out hunting our two heroes; Maurice Compte‘s aptly named baddie Big Evil starts at ’10’ and builds from there, and his female offsider Yahira Garcia is about as threatening as Kreayshawn. There are, however, some genuinely funny and heartfelt moments littered throughout the picture. And as we head towards the inevitably heart-breaking finale (which the title essentially gives away), End of Watch does the unthinkable and nearly inspires a tear or two. Tears are always preferable to vomit.

The ‘found footage’ aesthetic isn’t a total write-off. There are car chases, shoot-outs, and tense investigations that recall games like Grand Theft Auto and Modern Warfare, and are actually rather smartly and thrillingly composed. Ayer thoughtlessly deflates tension elsewhere by breaking the rules of his movie’s universe. It’s frightening when we’re only seeing what these guys see, particularly as they peer around dark corners or pull back ominous curtains. But occasionally Ayer will cut away – either to his own camera, or to the gang members who are bizarrely recording their antics too – and suddenly we have more information than our protagonists. Bubble: popped.

If you’ve come for – and been disappointed by – the action, you’ll at least stay for the chemistry. Gyllenhaal’s great, Peña’s fantastic, and together they make one of the most appealing pairings of late. The best moments involve the duo rolling around in their squad car, joshing one another. Their relationship feels lived-in. Zavala is more matter-of-factly heroic out of the two, which the brash Taylor has to come to turns with after he follows him into a burning house to rescue some children. I liked how this informed and evolved the characters. It’s the only thing that does, really. Ayer reportedly wrote the film in under a week, and it does show, both in the screenplay’s immaturity and vapidity. Nonetheless, as an insight into the lives of the LAPD in one of America’s toughest districts, as well as the relationships forged on the frontlines by these seemingly masochistic men, it’s a good one. He has Gyllenhaal and Peña to thank for carrying End of Watch over that thin blue line.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

End of Watch arrives in Australian cinemas November 1, 2012.

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