For most of his career in film writer/director David Ayer has earned a living telling the violent stories of police officers on call. From films like Training Day to Street Kings, Ayer’s playground is the hard-hitting streets of Los Angeles. He knows this territory well and exploits its grit with a nice and often tense layer of realism for his cop fiction. End of Watch, his best film yet, is more of the engaging same with a bit of a cinematic twist thanks to the influences of The Blair Witch Project and the success of Paranormal Activity series.
Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Pena), two racially mismatched cops, are brothers in arms. After being cleared of an on-the-job homicide (as seen in the abrubt opening), the officers are feeling their collective oats and, because Taylor is enrolled in a film class, decide to start documenting their every move both on and off assignment. Don’t get them wrong; they respect the law and do their jobs well. They just like to liven up their routine a bit with some bare handed boxing of suspects from time to time.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that these two are closer than most officers. They bust each other’s chops and joke about each other’s lifestyle. It’s a chemistry that is perfectly natural and easy-going and enjoyed by the audience. The danger, however, in what they are doing is growing alarmingly real and reaches a point of no return with a house fire and an accidental raid on a Mexican cartel’s human trafficking hideout.
Ayer follows the officers on their seemingly disconnected calls as they film themselves – although not committedly - patrolling the streets. Yes, it’s the ego-centric thought processes of the iGeneration on display and it serve its younger audiences well. But the film isn’t always faithful to the established style. It breaks the flow of connectivity with establishing shots and hand-held scenes in which no character is filming. The shadow of the actual camera operator can be seen falling against the faces of some of the characters beneath the searing rays of the LA sun. We even get shots of the cartoony “bad guys” - telegraphing their plans - without explanation. Where exactly did this footage come from? It's unclear.
Ayers allows some pretty brutal and shocking scenes of hardcore criminal behavior to find their way into the picture. We also get the police response. That’s not to say End of Watch is LAPD propaganda. The misbegotten bravado catches up with Officers Taylor and Zavala even as they build upon their relationships with Zavala’s pregnant wife (Natalie Martinez) and Taylor’s girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) and knock around common sense. There are also a lot of visceral POV shots that echo a first-person shooter video game and those sequences are excellent. With a stable camera attached to a shotgun barrel facing the person firing the weapon, there is a unique perspective on violence and gunplay during the climax of the film.
The chemistry between Gyllenhaal’s pensive Taylor and Pena’s boiling Zavala is immediately likable and relatable. Their rag-tag back and forth comments and dashboard antics feels perfectly natural. Ayers graces the screenplay with zippy dialogue that is pitch-perfect and never comes across as artificial. Even in their deeper moments of reflection, the script percolates with a natural rhythm that echoes through the streets they patrol. This is a deep friendship. Yet, the film offers our well-defined heroes some relatively stereotypical villains and handles them without the same concern. They operate solely as stereotypes. AK-47s miss their running targets. Typical characterization chains them as an almost empty threat. But, make no mistake, their guns are loaded and violence will be met with violence.
End of Watch is a tougher-than-nails film with unexpected emotion that resonates far after it has ended. Daily violence is devotion for these two cops. But Ayer, a seasoned pro at this material, succumbs to the illogical side of the found footage phenomenon and opens himself to some fairly false and obvious moments. While immediate and urgent with some pretty powerful scenes, the resulting mix of documentary and studio-helmed action film doesn’t escape criticism but End of Watch manages to keep the LAPD experience far from routine.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use.
Runtime: 109 mins.
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gylenhaal; Michael Peña; Natalie Martinez; Anna Kendrick; David Harbour; Frank Grillo; America Ferrera
Genre: Crime | Action | Thriller
Tagline: Every moment of your life they stand watch.
Memorable Movie Quote: "My Grandma said, can you live without her?"
Distributor: Open Road Films
Official Site: twitter.com/EndOfWatchMovie
Release Date: September 21, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 22, 2013.
Synopsis: Academy Award® nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña star in the action thriller End of Watch as young Los Angeles police officers Taylor and Zavala as they patrol the city's meanest streets of south central Los Angeles. The film creates a riveting portrait of the city's most dangerous corners, the cops who risk their lives there every day, and the price they and their families are forced to pay.
Available on Blu-ray - January 22, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; BD-Live; D-Box; Mobile features
Region Encoding: Region-free
Universal's End of Watch is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that does what it can with the limited range of the low-end cameras chosen for use in this production. The issue here isn’t the transfer – it’s that the movie itself doesn’t have much to offer in terms of picture quality. There are a few beautiful shots of sunsets or of the Los Angeles skyline at night, but much of the material here is deliberately murky. Shadows are a bit muted and colors are sharp. Textures are revealing and definition is crisp and clean. The aggressive sound design – presented here in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track – isn’t hindered by the tools used to film the action and packs a solid punch for your entertainment system.
- Writer/director David Ayer provides a thoughtful scene-specific commentary of his movie. He traces the origins of the idea of using found footage to tell a cop movie and then discusses each sequence in terms of performance, concept and execution. It’s an interesting listen and Ayer also answers many questions about the some of the scenes.
Universal’s blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, a digital copy, the usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature, and BD-Live capabilities. The supplementals include seventeen deleted scenes or alternate versions of scenes included in the movie. It’s interesting to see the footage – especially that of a charity fight – but the scenes really add little to the final product. Disappointingly, the rest of the featurettes are worthless soundbites from its director and its stars set to images from the movie. Once is enough, repeating the formula for five two-minute long featurettes is just lazy.
- 17 Deleted Scenes (46 min)
- Fate With a Badge (2 min)
- In the Streets (2 min)
- Women on Watch (2 min)
- Watch Your Six (2 min)
- Honors (2 min)