Since 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, films made as ‘found footage’ have been monopolised by the horror genre. Examples include REC, Cloverfield and more recently, the Paranormal Activity series. With the exception of the rather fabulous Chronicle, this style of filmmaking was starting to become cinematic deja vu…until now.
End of Watch is written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote crime flicks S.W.A.T (2003) and the Oscar-winning Training Day (2001). The film is made up of footage captured by LAPD street cops Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) and Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is filming his activities for a school project. As we see them get embroiled in drug and gun crime, we see them get embroiled into something more serious than the odd spliff in the backseat.
As fast-paced as the film is, it does seem to shift in pace and tone quite often and suddenly, varying from mellow and comical to sick and disturbing. While trying to capture the different perspectives of the characters, whether it is from the drug cartels, as Brian or as a fly-on-the-wall, Ayer may have broken protocol in found footage filmmaking but in the process, creates an uneven pace up until the last third of the film.
Certain characters could have been developed more and taken out of the stereotypical shadow that comprises of bad language, bad dress sense and basic lack of character intrigue. It would have been nice to see villains that look intimidating yet not look as if they come from a skater park.
However, what is great about End of Watch is that you can easily believe this stuff actually happens. There is a sense of obligation in ‘keeping things real’ – in fact, it is this realism instilled in the film that allows this to be more than an amateur rip-off of COPS. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña is fabulous to watch, swapping jokes about their respective lives – Brian being quite carefree and Peña a traditional, family-loving Mexican – while getting each other’s backs at the right moment. They easily steal the limelight from the rest of the cast, leaving supporting members such as America Ferrera (Ugly Betty‘s Betty Suarez) and Anna Kendrick, in the lurch.
Fast-paced, entertaining with great performances from Gyllenhaal and Peña, End of Watch is more than your usual cop-partner/buddy flick.