Doing the found footage thing with a cop movie is a neat idea. Shame that director David Ayer makes a total hash of it.
The first thing you notice about David Ayer’s latest feature, End Of Watch, which, like his previous, Harsh Times, he both wrote and directed, is that it purports to be ‘found footage’, compiled from digicams used not only by LAPD Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), but also by the gangbangers they encounter on their patrols of South Central.
In theory, such first-person cinematography ought to impart the sort of gritty, street-level vérité associated with television’s COPS. But Ayer uses this method inconsistently, throwing in both conventional widescreen establishing shots and, more insidiously, handheld camerawork that simply cannot be diegetic.
Examples of this include a mobile shot of Taylor in bed with his girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick), and the low-angle shot of Taylor on the move filmed from the barrel end of his shotgun. In a film where visual vibrancy always trumps verisimilitude, shakicam’s reality effects are repeatedly problematised by the question of which character is filming what at any given time, especially when the answer, at least sometimes, would appear to be 'no one'.
Ayer deploys his voguish POV style in a manner that some might call postmodern, but those less generously inclined will regard simply as half-assed. The second thing you notice about End Of Watch takes longer to sink in, not least because it represents such a radical departure from convention.
In previous films – from L.A. Confidential to Lakeview Terrace, from Rampart to Crash, and not forgetting those that Ayer has himself written or directed (Training Day, Dark Blue, Street Kings) – it is axiomatic that the LAPD is as bent and brutal as sin itself.
Yet when, in this film’s voice-over prologue, Taylor speaks of occupying the thin blue line that separates the good from the bad, and later describes the police locker room as "the place where the forces of good prepare to fight the forces of evil", his words, so easily dismissed as cynical irony, will turn out to be absolutely, incredibly true.
Taylor and Zavala really are committed, upright family men, playing out their good cop/good cop routine against a Mexican gang of vicious killers led by Big Evil (Maurice Compte), a man whose very name marks his place in the Manichaean divide. Right to the very end (and this is perhaps a spoiler) you will be awaiting a moral reversal that never comes. For so wholeheartedly and unequivocally are the constabulary characters lionised here that you can almost believe End Of Watch has been bankrolled by the LAPD itself.
In this straightforward, black-and-white story of good and evil, there is no real place for the dramas of character conflict. In its place is an overgenerous helping of homosocial banter and bromance, a series of crime scenes designed to make middle-class viewers go tsk, and the occasional funny line. There’s also a charting of the demographic shift from African-Americans to Hispanics as America’s dominant underclass.
Buddy cop flick from the writer of Training Day.
Fun in parts, but deeply flawed.
Throws in the badge on bad cops, glorifies good cops, fudges found footage.