Every so often, a movie comes along that re-defines a well-established genre. Such is the hope with writer/director David Ayer’s End of Watch. With such a beloved sub-genre as the cop drama, Ayer is trying to do it all with End of Watch: he is clearly trying to make something new while staying loyal to fans who already love these types of movies. In some ways, End of Watch is truly revolutionary, but not enough to feel like this isn’t a story that most of us have heard before. After all, Ayers includes all the staples of cop dramas: two best friends, a pregnant wife at home, plenty of gun violence, and their fair share of expletives. It’s how the story that is told that makes End of Watch such a promising addition to the cop drama.
End of Watch tries to bring cops into the world of shaky cameras and grainy footage, all compiled into a tidy narrative. Granted, the movie doesn’t always utilize the whole “found footage” angle, but that’s the main merit that sets it apart from the rest. Honestly, if you can get over the initial motion sickness that some people feel with handheld films, it’s a compelling technique. It makes the scenes seem more personal somehow. Perhaps it’s because most of it is filmed in close-up so the audience is forced to identify with Taylor and Zavala. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting filming style and for the most part, it works for the film.
Unfortunately, logic catches up with the characters and once the novelty of the technique wears off, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are these people still filming?” End of Watch attempts to quash any of these questions of logic early on in the film when someone directly asks why the camera is filming. Ayers trademark wit that made Training Day so compelling is almost completely absent as Taylor clumsily explains, it’s for a film class. Time passes over the course of the movie, seemingly a lot of time, yet Taylor continues to film. This may seem like nitpicking, but when gang members are filming their violent crimes, also over the course of some time, the suspension of disbelief becomes a little hard to handle. Much like other films that use the shaky camera aesthetic, the novelty and its usefulness don’t carry throughout the whole movie.
Honestly, End of Watch struggles a lot with finding its sense of purpose. It comes across as a slice-of-life kind of movie, only to have a heavy plot thrust on it in its final moments. Until the sub-plot about drug cartels is introduced, which is late in the game, the movie is content to spend time with its two leads. It is clearly in an effort to flesh out these characters, so that the audience is able to invest in their lives, but something about it is just so hard to do. In fact, with a movie like End of Watch, there is an important distinction to be made. The characters of End of Watch are nothing short of glorified bros with guns and badges. There isn’t a terrible amount of depth to the barbs traded between Taylor and Zavala. Individually, I have no idea what these characters are about, but when paired together? Something about them makes sense. While this is somewhat lazy characterization, it speaks to the power of the performances. The characters are obnoxious and tiresome for a majority of the film, but the performances, particularly the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña, is incredible. The two, even in their most unbearable moments, convey a type of friendship that is unparalleled. It is clear that the two have history with one another and they get one another, even if the audience doesn’t. The performances are standout in the film, even if the characters are not. It takes truly talented actors to do that, and both Gyllenhaal and Peña prove themselves with this film.
End of Watch is a complicated and ambitious movie, even if it struggles to break out of the ranks of the cop drama, only to find itself surrounded by all the trappings of the sub-genre. It is its ambition that makes End of Watch something greater. While the film may not always deliver, there is something to be said about its effort. The filming style, while not always logical, adds an intensity to the film that might otherwise be lacking. It may not always make sense to shoot in this style, but Ayer’s effort to bring a new sense of realism to the genre is commendable. However, it is the intoxicating performances of otherwise unbearable characters that makes End of Watch. The film may not always succeed, but there is a sense of accomplishment in Ayer’s effort to revitalize the cop drama.
End of Watch will be released on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo on January 22, 2013. Special features for the blu-ray include several behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, and an audio commentary with writer/director David Ayer.