Movie Review: 'End of Watch'

What happens when a movie ignores its own premise? I get annoyed ...

End of Watch is writer/director David Ayer's return to the world of Los Angeles based police dramas. I say "return" not to suggest that he's been absent from the locale/genre at all, but rather to emphasize that Ayer has spent the entirety of the last decade plus making films of this ilk.

Perhaps best known as the screenwriter for Training Day, Ayer has penned S.W.A.T and Dark Blue, and directed Harsh Times and Street Kings, all of which deal with Los Angeles crime and law enforcement. The way End of Watch attempts to stand out is via a gimmick, involving handheld and point-of-view cameras, that is kicked to the curb almost as quickly as it's introduced. The result is an unfortunate miss of a film that had a worthy partnership at its center.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala respectively, two dedicated LAPD officers stationed in a particularly rough neighborhood in South Central. We open with an intense car chase and aftermath, seen through the lens of the black-and-white's dash cam. What follows is an extended "day-in-the-life" type narrative that follows the partners through the everyday occurrences of their work (everyday for them might seem extraordinary to some).

One day, an unfortunately ambitious stop causes the pair to stumble across what ends up being an extensive criminal enterprise. This encounter puts them in the cross-hairs of some dangerous people.

At the outset of the film we're given a premise: in a particularly egregious scene of dialogue-led expedition, Gyllenhaal's character claims to be in law school (a premise I scoffed at - there is no way this guy is a damn near 24/7 cop and is ALSO going to law school, unless he's going to Kellogg's School of Law) for which he needs an art credit for some reason. To satisfy this art credit, he is going to make a film chronicling his beat. Logically then, we should only be seeing events through the lens of his handheld, or the cameras he's fixed to his and his partner's uniforms - almost a variation on the "found footage" concept.

Logic be dammed, this concept is ignored almost immediately: we're routinely given various camera shots and angles that have nothing to do with Gyllenhaal's project, from numerous shots in and out of the car and precinct, to establishing sequences of locations and villains (Ayer throws a camera in the hands of one of the villains to try to counter this, but he commits the same errors on that side of the story). By the time the third act rolls around, Ayer seems to be hoping that the audience will have forgotten that this whole film was built on that concept from the beginning.

This might not matter for some, but it was a huge distraction for me. A distraction that took away from what was an undeniably strong chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena. Both actors are fully committed to their roles, and they give the audience a reason to invest in them. We're given quick glimpses into each of their personal lives, seeing love interests and budding families, that are a bit underdeveloped but they are at the very least another reason to care.

End of Watch is at its best when we see Gyllenhaal and Pena conversing and joking with one another inside the police car. Unfortunately, there is not much worth noting for any of the other characters. Most of the additional police officers we see are flat or rooted in cliche, and the primary group of gang members that serve as the villains are so stereotypical that they border on cartoonish. People like this undoubtedly exist, but poorly written dialogue and the absurd number of times the word "fuck" is used make it more than a little hard to except these people as real.


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