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End of Watch

Camcorder cops – ★★★

End of Watch director David Ayer first came to prominence with his script for Training Day,  which gave us Denzel Washington’s Oscar winning performance as the corrupt and captivating Detective Alonzo Harris. Ayer has also directed the under-appreciated Keanu Reeves vehicle Street Kings and been involved with a range of other films that feature the Los Angeles Police Department and life in the darker corners of the City of Angels including S.W.A.T., Dark Blue and Harsh Times. It’s safe to say he really digs the complexities of the LAPD and knows how it can and should be presented on screen.

In End of Watch (Ayers’ first screen-writing credit in seven years) we get Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two bubbly young cops (Officers Taylor and Zavala respectively) with ambitions beyond their regular beat who run into trouble when they unwittingly uncover a drug gang’s collection of guns and money leaving them firmly in the criminal’s crosshairs.

The film’s opening voice-over, its title (a term used by police officers to describe a colleague killed in the line of duty) and the work done at establishing the relationships that drive these officers hints to us early on that things may not end up quite so happily ever after. This sense of foreboding tension is heightened by the fact both men have found love in their personal lives with Zavala marrying his high-school sweetheart and Taylor eventually finding a woman who combines brains with beauty in the shape of a cutesy Anna Kendrick. While their women are important to them, it’s the bromance and their strong mutual bond of camaraderie and loyalty that underpins the entire film.

| o | – This would look great in 3-D

2012 saw “found footage” continuing its slow take-over of the horror genre (V/H/S, The Devil Inside and the Paranormal Activity and [REC] sequels all fared OK at the box office). But away from the scares and screams it is also being used much more in traditional narrative features with Chronicle continuing in the post-Cloverfield big action-movie mould, the upcoming indie King Kelly and now Ayer’s End of Watch.

It’s unfortunate then that it’s this found footage element which is undoubtedly the film’s biggest problem. Gyllenhaal is making a documentary for some sort of school credit which is never really explained and is really just a contrived way of explaining why the officers have cameras on their lapels and all around their car. Ayer’s rules are broken repeatedly in the opening twenty minutes as we’re shown shot after shot that is much better quality than a crappy clip-on camera and clearly didn’t originate from either of the officer’s cameras. It is a big enough problem to slow down your enjoyment of the film as you are left puzzled as to where the shots came from and why the film has suddenly started looking like an PS3 first-person-shooter.

As well as crap cinematography, the found footage element is also an excuse to dispense with normal plot development as we just jump from set-piece to set-piece. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but when the characters are this good and enjoyable to be around, you kind of want to see some of the pivotal moments in their lives. The bests scenes in the film are when Taylor and Zavala are in their car just shooting the breeze, which is a credit to the writing.

All in all End of Watch feels like a missed opportunity. Ayer may well be getting bored of making LAPD films and can only get into it if he latches onto a gimmick like he has here. If you can put all that stuff aside it becomes clear that he has created two great characters very much in the “good cop” mode and aside from a few clichéd villainous gang members, the film gives a solid picture of life on the wrong side of the tracks where law enforcement officers are just considered an inconvenience and a minor part of the food chain.

USA  /  Directed By: David Ayer  /  Written By: David Ayer  /  Starring:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick  /  109min  /   Crime, Drama   /  Release: 23 November 2012 (UK/Ireland), 21 September 2012 (US/Canada)