If you have been following my writings for SuperMarcey.com over the past few years, you would know that it’s no secret that I’m fan of found-footage films (which is pretty obvious in my past reviews for the films TROLL HUNTER and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4) . While I can understand why most people would hate them but for me personally I find it a rather effective way of telling a story, especially when it’s done right. Plus I really like it when filmmaker does it something creative or unique with it. Whether it be through how they approach the actual filmmaking itself or how it’s used for a particular story. What makes the film END OF WATCH interesting is that they apply it with the cop film genre. I happen to also like cop films as well, so I was very intrigued to see how that format would work with that genre. So how was the film itself? It was pretty damn great if I say so myself.
The film tells the story of best friends Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), who work as police officers for the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department). One day as part of a filmmaking course that he is doing, Taylor decides that he is going to start documenting both he and Zavala’s patrols in South Central for his film project. For a while we follow the day-to-day lives of these two police officers as they go through their usual but at times extremely dangerous patrols and as well as their relationships with the women in their lives (Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez). However after arresting a young gang member for having drug money and illegal weapons in his car, both Taylor and Zavala suddenly become the targets of a very dangerous drug cartel that work in the area.
I should start off by saying that while END OF WATCH is a found-footage film, it actually isn’t shot entirely in that format. I would say that at lest 70% of the film is shot in that style but the rest of it is shot like a normal traditional film. If you expect it to an entire found-footage film from beginning to end, you’re going to be disappointed (although, that probably won’t bother most people). However despite that it doesn’t stop END OF WATCH from being a well made, engaging, gritty and entertaining action cop drama. It’s no surprise that it would be since the film’s writer/director David Ayer is an old hat when it comes to this genre, since 95% of his filmography just happen to be cop films (he was the writer of TRAINING DAY and DARK BLUE, and as well as director of HARSH TIMES and STREET KINGS). So you can definitely say that he knows this genre inside and out and how to make it work. Now that he added the found-footage aspect to the mix, it gives the film a much more grounded and very realistic feel to it. Ayer’s direction is great, he really captures the reality of the film extremely well and shows us what it is like to work as a cop in LA. It makes the film feel both real and authentic. He handles both the film’s many dramatic moments and action scenes with confidence, intensity and skill. Plus he doesn’t look away from the film’s most violent scenes (there is one certain scene in particular that I found to be chilling). Also his script is was very well written, from both the interactions between the officers of the LAPD and the gang members of South Central (Ayer actually spent most of his young life living in South Central, which would explain why everything feels so believable).
What I did find interesting is that it’s a film that’s not really motivated by plot, in fact for at lest 2/3 of it it’s actually more of a vignette film since we follow both Gyllenhaal & Pena’s characters on their daily patrols. But luckily we are still engaged by our two main characters and what happens to them in the film. Another thing I found to be surprising about the film is how it actually can be pretty funny at times, especially the scenes where Gyllenhaal & Pena’s characters are just talking about normal everyday stuff in their squad car. Speaking of which, both Gyllenhaal & Pena give excellent performances in their roles. They have great chemistry with each other and we believe their character’s friendship right from the very first frame. They both are just truly fantastic. Plus they are well matched by a great supporting cast: while they are basically play the ‘wife’ roles and as well as being a bit underused, both Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez still give solid performances nonetheless. Also the rest of the supporting cast (which include America Ferrera, Frank Grillo, David Harbour, Cody Horn) are all quite good as well.
When it comes to the negative side of things, there is are some aspects of the film I found to be flawed. Earlier in my review I mentioned that the film goes back and forth between being a found-footage film to being a standard shot film. Unfortunately the standard shot footage just happens to be done in the shaky-cam style, so it can be rather confusing to tell difference between the two since both formats are shot in the same style. Although it’s easy to tell the difference since the found-footage format has a much more polished look while the standard shot stuff has a bit of a grainy visual look to it. However at times it can be hard to tell as well since they both look so similar. Also they was one aspect about the film that I think didn’t work was the scenes where the members of the drug cartel are filming their crimes on video cameras or video phones, amlmost as if they are making their own found-footage film. It didn’t make any sense since their footage is completely separate from from the documentary that Gyllenhaal’s character is making. Ayer does this a few times throughout the film and I can understand what he is trying to do (by making it so that these other separate found-footage films are happening at the exact same time as our main one) but it just didn’t think it really work for me. Plus the film doesn’t really add anything new to the plot that we haven’t already seen before.
Overall while END OF WATCH isn’t the most original cop film ever but it’s a pretty strong, compelling and well made film that I had a good time with and it uses the found-footage format quite well. If you’re a fan of either cop films, action films or found-footage films, I would definitely recommend it’s worth checking out for sure. It’s pretty damn good.
– Bede Jermyn