“You’ve broken the law and I am here to arrest you. I am fate with a badge and a gun protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police.”
David Ayer is no stranger to police dramas. You might say it’s his favorite cinematic subject. Just look at his list of screenplays which include the likes of S.W.A.T. and Training Day and a director resume that includes Harsh Times. He’s not afraid to delve into the darker nature of the police. He’s at it again with End Of Watch which he both wrote and directed.
Officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) are pretty much like family. They are patrol partners and have a reputation for being tough guys out on the street. Lately, they’ve managed to be on scene for a series of serious crimes that range from drug dealing to human trafficking. Feds always appear to show up and take over these cases. It doesn’t bother them much, because they’re out there doing the job together. What they don’t know is that their discoveries are making certain interests very uncomfortable. It’s costing money, so a hit on the two has been green-lit. They don’t really take the threat seriously, but they should have. The result is a final half-hour showdown that will leave a trail of blood and bodies behind before the end credits start to roll.
The film is a rather mixed blessing. Gyllenhaal and Pena have pretty solid chemistry together, and Ayers does a marvelous job of developing their relationship. We get to see them out on the job, and we also see their families interact. The two do an admirable job of bringing authenticity to the roles. The problems begin as the first hour really starts to drag. Ayers goes so overboard developing the human aspect of his main characters that he completely forgets to develop a story to go with them. The bad guys here are tragically underplayed, and we never get a good view of what it is that’s really going on. Whatever you can piece together is through hints and casual conversations. While I appreciate the painstaking effort to get us to absolutely know and believe these characters, it could have been done with more of an eye to telling a solid story. When the peril finally comes, it almost appears to come from nowhere, and the change of pace happens in the wink of an eye.
Of course, the last half hour plays out with a rather brutal intensity. When the “bad guys” decide to hit the pair, they enlist the help of the local gangs on the street. The result is a harsh gauntlet of firepower the likes we haven’t seen since Butch and Sundance in Bolivia.
The film also differs from standard cop dramas with the heavy use of the “found footage” trend. While not all of the film is presented in this style, enough of it is that you will eventually get a bit tired of the shaky cameras and lightning fast edits that don’t allow you to always orient yourself enough and it becomes a decided distraction. The footage comes courtesy of dashboard cams. Taylor also carries around a video camera, often getting him in hot water with other cops. They also use lapel cameras on both officers. Even one of the gangs has an amateur videographer along during a vicious drive-by and during the final assault on the officers. I have to say I’m completely over this trend. I was pretty much over it by the final credits of Blair Witch Project. I would have enjoyed this film considerably more without it.
The result is a movie that is quite solid at times. The leads are perfect in the roles, and the film captures a realistic side of police work much the way Act Of Valor recently portrayed special ops. The end result, however, screams direct-to-video. The pacing kills. By the time we get into some dynamic action, “I’m already on my 9th Red Bull”.