Title: End of Watch
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena (‘Tower Heist’), Anna Kendrick (‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part I’) and Natalie Martinez (TV’s ‘Detroit 1-8-7’)
Shooting a film in the found-footage style has often worked in the horror genre in recent years, as it allows viewers to witness the scares as the victim would over the course of the plot. But the idea of using the style in a crime drama, like with the new movie ‘End of Watch,’ seemed questionable, as the success of the genre has previously relied on the unpredictable behavior of its characters who are involved in a mystery. But the film, which was shot through the prospective of two police partners, intriguingly helped build the suspense of the dangers they were unpredictably met with while on the job.
‘End of Watch’ follows two Los Angeles police officers, partners Brian Taylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (portrayed by Michael Pena), as they’re sent to patrol a new dangerous zone in South Central after being cleared for a lawful shooting. Brian, who is going back to school for pre-law, is videotaping their arrests and other daily duties for a filmmaking class he’s taking as an elective. Through hand-held equipment and dash cameras in their cruiser, the two officers capture the illegal happenings on the city’s toughest corners.
Brian and Mike’s lives as they know them are severely altered after they confiscate money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel during a routine traffic stop. The officers know they’ve unintentionally encountered a dangerous case, but don’t realize how much danger their lives are truly in when the cartel plots its revenge. The two are too busy enjoy their friendship and personal lives, including Brian’s new serious relationship with Janet (played by Anna Kendrick) and Mike’s new child with his wife, Gabby (portrayed by Natalie Martinez), to realize the harm the gang sets out to put them in.
Gyllenhaal and Pena were both well cast in their respective roles as the two seemingly tough police officers, whose close professional bond with each other and raw emotions made them respectable. The two actors naturally portrayed their characters in ‘End of Watch’ as not letting the tribulations of their job hinder their relationship, even as they debated how to pursue the all-important cartel case they accidentally uncovered. But even though the two take their jobs seriously, and are determined to help the innocent people they’ve sworn to protect, Brian and Mike are also relatable because of the funny personal friendship they have with each other.
Mike, who always jokes around about his large Mexican family, isn’t afraid to overcome his racial differences from Brian, whose family is mainly the police force. Gyllenhaal and Pena convincingly portrayed their characters as not being emotionally distant from each other, even though they take some different approaches to life and family. The two characters are also memorable in the fact that they aren’t scared to discuss their true feelings and thoughts around each other. For example, after saving two young children in a house fire, and receiving medals of honor from their department, Brian and Mike insightfully question whether they truly are heroes, as they put their own lives, and their families’ lives, in danger.
The idea of shooting ‘End of Watch’ in the found footage genre, with many of the film’s events presented through Brian’s cameras initially seemed like a gimmick to lure viewers in. As expected, the movie’s writer-director, David Ayer, presented the filming as they pursued and arrested criminals and responded to their superiors, as shaky and not clearly capturing all the action. But the angle shots and other technical antics Brian used showed a true insight into the chaotic world he lived as a police officer. One intriguing technique Ayer used at times was to film Brian and Mike with the camera looking up at them, as to state they should be honored for protecting the innocent. The gang members, meanwhile, would be obscured as they were filmed, as if the director was denouncing their way of life and the activities they engaged in.
The action sequences Ayer included in ‘End of Watch’ were also interesting and captivating, as the director incorporated true-to-life, intriguing chases and arrests. The mystery crime drama didn’t solely focus on the bloody shoot-outs between the officers and the gang; Brian and Mike also documented their suspense-filled searches to find the criminals, including hopping fences in alleyways and erratically pursuing cars on the streets of Los Angeles. While there are several shots that are graphic and gory, including when one of Brian and Mike’s fellow officers is stabbed in the eye, the film truly captured the dangerous chases they regularly embark on.
The idea of shooting a crime drama in the found-footage style was a risky move on Ayer’s part, because there was no guarantee that he could capture all of the action and the personal relationship between the two main characters. But ‘End of Watch’ successfully worked, as it did capture the close personal and professional bonds between Brian and Mike. The technique also brilliantly captured the intense action and chases Brian and Mike embarked on. The found footage didn’t just show the officers’ close friendship, but also balanced it with the intriguing pursuit of the gang that threatened their relationship.
Written by: Karen Benardello