End Of Watch
Can we finally put a nail into the coffin of this bullshit found footage genre? "End of Watch," like "Chernobyl Diaries" a few months before it, doesn’t even have the balls to go all the way with the aesthetic. Some of the opening shots come from "existing" footage - dashboard cameras on the police car of our two main characters, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Micheal Pena), or pinhole cameras tacked to their shirts - but soon enough the film veers off into unexplained shaky cam madness. It never even bothers to ask who broke into film Jake’s makeout session with his fiancée (Anna Kendrick.)
What that style gives us is the least fun buddy-cop movie ever made, and probably the least believable one, too. Taylor and Zavala fashion themselves a couple of badasses - at one point they box a criminal, in order to shame him, rather than put him under arrest - but director David Ayer never has the audacity to portray them as anything other than ’good guys.’ He goes to great lengths to make sure they aren’t interpreted as corrupt, but all that leaves them is unlikeable and uninteresting.
And all the while they’re doing things so over the top that it would feel out-of-place even on trashy cable TV - the way they instigate a war with a Hispanic gang reveals a gamut of problems ranging from racial stereotyping to idiotic screenwriting. The film is self-important to the point of silliness, often holding Gyllenhaal and Pena up as glorified antiheroes. It’s hilariously out-of-place: their early actions, which reveal them to be both bullies and morons, leave them completely unsympathetic, and the film’s cheap look and small scope make it so that even a truly "heroic" performance would come off as cheap and unearned.
All this shoddy execution ruins something truly special: Gyllenhaal and Pena’s chemisty. Sure, Jake’s character gets engaged, and Michael’s is married. But the real love story is between these two - lifelong partners in the academy and the force, they often seem more distraught at the idea of losing each other to combat than their respective ladies do. But it’s not played as kitsch ("Top Gun," anyone?) but rather as very serious - the films puts it up front that these two put their lives on the line together daily, and that the trust between them is true.
And somehow, Gyllenhaal and Pena pull it off. The "love story," so to speak, is left in the subtext. But the natural camaraderie between the two is so believable that it left me wishing the film’s 110 long minutes were more about the two of them hanging out on their beat than about their grandiose adventures. Watching the two make jokes about their spouses or about what constitutes "white people shit" is far more rewarding than Ayer’s incomprehensibly lensed gunfights.
I joked to a friend outside that I would love to watch the Abbas Kiarostami version of "End of Watch," which films the two from the dashboard and never leaves the car. Those scenes are packed with all the honesty, character work, and funny details that the majority of the film lacks. It makes you realize that if the film actually followed its setup, and had all the footage originate from "existing" cameras, it would be a much better character piece. And that makes the lazy direction appear even worse than it already did.
Because unfortunately, those bright spots are few and far between, lost in a sea of stereotyped ethnic villainy and a third act attempt at the operatic that ends up feeling more like an episode of an FX TV show. If you buy into the idea that neither superior officers or drug cartels would have any problems documenting their inner workings on film, then maybe it’ll work for you. But I couldn’t wait for it to end.