You really should turn your nose up at End of Watch, but you can’t help but be captivated by it. It’s made up of pretty much every cop movie cliché going, and you’ve seen the plot more than a few times before. And yet, the bits that seem like they’ve been cut and pasted from other films are the real highlights. Quentin Tarantino is a master at this – making constant homages to other films, while still writing and directing them in a way only he can.
What’s even more surprising is that the version of End of Watch we see on the big screen is the product of a director losing his nerve. Originally, the plan was to make the film entirely from the viewpoint of the camera owned by officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s making what presumably is an illegal documentary. This reduces the scope of the film considerably, so it’s not surprising that the director David Ayer couldn’t follow through on the stylistic premise. It just doesn’t make sense that Taylor would film everything; the big plot hole in most found footage films. In terms of style, the end result is rather inconsistent, but by allowing the camera to move more freely, Ayer’s film is able to accomplish much more.
The film follows Taylor and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) as they patrol the streets in one of the more dangerous areas of Los Angeles. During what they think is a routine traffic stop, they find money and guns in the back of the car they’ve pulled over. Both Taylor and Zavala then find themselves in the firing line themselves, when they discover the confiscated items belong to a notorious drug cartel.
Brian Taylor is certainly the most memorable half of the partnership. He’s, to put it bluntly, a mouthy arrogant show-off. He’s lusty, often going into vivid detail about sexual encounters and fantasies. What really makes Taylor stand out so much though is the skilled actor playing him. Jake Gyllenhaal is a big on screen presence, in contrast with his other performances that are a little light-weight. No doubt Gyllenhaal also gives the film a little stability, just to make sure it doesn’t tumble off the rails.
Taylor’s partner Mike Zavala has a similar sense of humour, but he still would prefer if Taylor concentrated on his job a little more. He’s married, an expectant father, and is much more cautious than his friend. It’s all very Lethal Weapon; the straight-laced cop becoming the unlikely friend of a mouthy maverick. It has been reported during the build-up to the release of End of Watch that Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena had struggled to get along during the first few weeks of filming. This certainly isn’t evident on screen; the pair sharing a wonderful chemistry.
This marks an interesting turn in the career of director David Ayer. With his previous films like Harsh Times and Dark Blue, Ayer has made a career out of making the police corrupt. Now he’s honouring them in a humane way. It doesn’t seem too difficult for him either, which goes to show how talented he can be. He doesn’t completely bail on the found footage idea, filming most of it like a reality TV show. Even though it feels rather overused in a film that doesn’t really need it, Ayer is able to create an abundance of atmosphere that makes the insults traded between Taylor and Zavala just as much fun as the obligatory car chases.
At some points though, the cliché does become a little too much. The bad guy’s for example from the drug cartel are horrifically written. They painfully follow the stereotype, and it’s hard to find any substance in the scenes they make an appearance. But all the other elements feel very real. Not because of the found footage style that’s used to excess in modern mainstream film making, but because of the two lead performances from Gyllenhaal and Pena.
End of Watch really is part of the new cop drama style that has drifted through both film and television over the past few years. While we used to be captivated by the procedurals that showed us the science and the method in police work, we’re now much more interested in the people who wear the uniform on a day-to-day basis. This is why End of Watch works so well; it takes place during the highest moments of genuine human drama.
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