28 November 2012

Movie Review: End of Watch


End of Watch
2012, 109mins, 15
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Cast includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, David Harbour, America Ferrera 
UK Release Date: 23rd November 2012

Found footage, shaking cameras and first person gun barrel perspective have all become tired gimmicks, technical quirks and stylistic tropes usually deployed to mask incompetent filmmaking or lack of creativity. It’s a surprise then to find that whilst “End of Watch” features all of these dubious touches, the film is a massively accomplished and appreciatively character driven effort. Director David Ayer (last seen helming 2008’s swiftly forgotten “Street Kings”) actually makes strong use of the rugged POV aesthetics, casting them to ratchet up the product’s intensity rather than hide a lack of engaging human presence. This believable and charged account of life as a law-enforcer is a far cry from another tired “Paranormal Activity” sequel.

Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are two gusty and respected members of the LAPD; partners and brothers in arms. They have been at each other’s sides for a considerable swathe of time, the bond having formed into a cocksure but intimate dynamic, both professionally and personally. As Brian collects footage for a school project, he and his partner inadvertently anger leaders of a local cartel, drawing their wrath due to a major cash and firearms bust. With both men enjoying rewarding family lives, the trouble arises at an objectionable time, but in order to survive they will have to come together and prepare for street warfare.

The plot takes time to work itself into a lather, but that transpires to be of little concern. The episodic first act in “End of Watch” actually fuels prime character development and allows for a flavour of L.A’s streets to surface, Ayer capturing the dry, sun-baked underbelly of the city rather marvellously. The clammy setting is fantastically realized, pumping the already intense product with a further dose of connective tissue. Audiences should have no trouble placing themselves within Ayer’s vision, the organic scenery and clever handheld camera work encouraging a real feeling of voluntary participation.

“End of Watch” is violent and often grim, the picture making no apologies for its frank and unfiltered examination of criminal behaviour in L.A. Women are beaten. Children are placed in jeopardy. Officers are stabbed in the eye-socket. Ayer has an unflinching touch and uses it to increase his film’s grasp on reality, never exploiting the horror, but rather implementing it to further flesh out his protagonists. Sharp screenwriting also helps things plenty, “End of Watch” not completely forfeiting a sense of humour. Yes the investigative moments are often nasty and the dialogue expletive ridden, but Ayer’s picture does manage to provide a healthy stock of banter and boyish clowning. These softer moments coupled with a few instances of sentimental familial bliss help raise the stakes come the bullet filled finale, certainly by the climax there’s enough of a human spirit on show to incur sympathy from attentive viewers.

Gyllenhaal and Pena are both great, the former particularly impressive as the mellower and slightly adrift Brian. Both men look to have beefed up in order to fully partake in the physical side of things, handling the action beats with aplomb, but it’s the ticklish chemistry and steel-faced bravery that mars their turns as more than stock genre acting. They’re an enjoyable duo to be in the company of, which given the film’s near two hour runtime is a lucky break.

“End of Watch” is an exciting, vibrant and affecting crime thriller, more sophisticated and grounded than the usual thin blue line fodder. The acting is capable across the board (Anna Kendrick and David Harbour leave their respective marks in small supporting roles), which coupled with the picture’s commitment to “keeping it real” adds wonderfully to the authenticity Ayer is gunning for. As hardboiled mainstream confection goes, “End of Watch” feels like a keeper. Call it Procedural Activity. Actually don’t. That’s an atrocious pun.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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