LAPD Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) patrol one of the most crime ridden areas of Los Angeles; South Central. Their close relationship and dedication to their job runs in parallel with Taylor’s fondness for filming everything they do on the beat. Cameras are attached to the Officer’s uniforms, car and Taylor even uses a handheld camera when investigating a crime scene or just driving around. When a couple of busts seem to share a link with some highly decorated or ‘blinged out’ weapons, Taylor suggests the pair carry out some detective work which gets them embroiled in a war with a Mexican drug cartel.
Although full of many of the usual buddy cop clichés and with problems around the filming style detracting from the drama, End of Watch is an above average Action-Drama which combines a great central relationship, two good performances and a gritty realism. Its main selling point though is the found footage style which is where the film occasionally fails.
The found footage formula is not the only method of filming used here. Occasionally filming will revert to a more traditional style albeit with a very close-up, handheld feel. The idea to make a kind of point of view (POV) Cop film is something which I can see a lot of merit in. In an age where everything is filmed and in a country like America where everyone sues everyone else it seems natural to have cameras on police cars and even on their uniforms. Indeed many cops in the US do carry cameras and even average Joes’ fit cameras to their cars these days. Early scenes reminded me of the TV shows Cops and World’s Wildest Police Videos with that crazy, old, orange Cop John Bunnell. On the whole the POV stuff works very well but when necessary the Director will move away from that in what I think is a solid decision. Why be confined to something if it will impact negatively on the movie? My reservation with the handheld stuff though is the fact that the various gangs are also using it. Maybe I’m naive but why would a Mexican gang who are about to go on a drive-by shooting bring a video camera to film themselves? This part of the action just felt really idiotic and unrealistic which is a shame because the rest of the film featured a lot of realism.
Talking of realism, as well as the close quarters filming, the rest of the film was packed with bags of realistic substance. The location shooting gave a real sense of the area in which the cops were patrolling and also made me even more excited for the release of GTA V next Spring. South Central is an area which I find fascinating and although I’d be terrified to go there it has the look of decaying beauty which I find visually appealing. It has an almost post apocalyptic vibe to the area, an area that America has forgotten or ignored. Driving through the streets on board the police car was an experience in itself. One problem with the depiction of South Central though was with its inhabitants. Although I’m sure there is a lot of crime and violence, I don’t recall seeing one honest or hardworking person from the area in the film and this feels very lopsided. I understand that the Police generally wouldn’t be coming into daily contact with those sorts of people but it reminded me of the stereotypical depiction of Iranians in Argo. Something else that was also prevalent was abuse towards children which was saddening to watch. This though feels like the Director telling us that throughout all the crime, gangs and drugs, it is the children who end up suffering the most and they are the one group that can do nothing about it.
Another area though in which the film felt real was in the performances of its two leads. Both Gyllenhaal and Pena went on extensive ride alongs and through tough training for their roles and in my opinion it really paid off. As well as the typical ‘bustin’ each others balls’ and bravado there were little details which were present which are usually absent from Cop films. We get to know the Officers well and even learn about their families. Taylor especially would constantly be checking in with HQ, letting them know their position, if they made any arrests and instantly asking for backup. While inside the car too both Cops performed mundane tasks such as checking their computer which although not vital to the story, provide an added sense of realism.
One of the major problems with the film though is in the final few scenes when all sense of realism disappears. In earlier scenes if shots were fired then backup would be there within seconds and a helicopter would be overhead surveying the scene. In the final shoot-out the lead characters were left on their own far too long. Although their communication was hampered, there was no chopper to be seen or heard and no backup on the road. There were other problems with the closing scenes too. At one point, four gunmen are hosing a small courtyard with their AK47s and the Cops get through with barely a scratch. It’s pretty ridiculous. The clichés are ripe in the second half also. Why do Cops always have to be one day away from retirement or about to get married or have a baby etc? It’s like a signpost that says “Well you aint making it then…”. The ending which is extremely sad is also hampered by a revelation that is far too obvious. Talking of the sadness, it really affected me. I felt like I got to know the two Cops so when they are battling the cartel I felt genuinely worried for them and a scene towards the end honestly had me close to tears. It’s been an emotional week for me film wise though. The Iron Lady made me feel sorry for Margret Thatcher and Amour broke my heart. Maybe my period is due… I was glad that I went into the film without knowing what the title refers to as I think this would have spoiled it for me. If you are going to see it and don’t know what End of Watch refers to then don’t look it up.
Overall End of Watch is a decent buddy Cop movie which brings a fresh twist to the found footage formula but is still plagued by problems. The central relationship and performances are excellent and the setting is pertinent but there are a few too many inconsistencies and problems towards the end.