Thursday, September 27, 2012

End of Watch (2012) – Review

Review: End of Watch is a realistic and gripping cop drama. The film is about two LAPD patrolmen, Brian and Mike, who get wrapped up in a war with a Mexican Cartel looking to move into Los Angeles.

Writer-director David Ayer’s goal with End of Watch seems to be to put the audience directly in the place of a typical LAPD cop, giving a life-in-the-day experience. To do this, he uses a combination style of found-footage and documentary filmmaking, utilizing hand-held camera work and low-end digital or typical ‘found-footage’ quality cameras and natural lighting. Doing this creates a very gritty and shaky style that makes the audience feel like they are in the action, as their point of view is generally the same as the protagonists’ (or in close proximity) and the camera’s constant movement also creates the illusion of experiencing the action first hand. The film both benefits from this style, as the audience does very much feel like they are right there in it, and it also detracts, as the style gets a bit tedious on the viewer (unless done by a fantastic filmmaking group, which is rare). Here, especially, the constant close-ups, shaky-cam and not really getting to see everything gets a little old, which means what the audience is seeing is not necessarily what they intuitively feel like they should be seeing. Also, story wise, it is a bit odd to see characters, like the gang members, carrying around small digital cameras to create the illusion of where the footage came from. Overall, while the style does work with the narrative, shooting it more documentary and less found-footage style (like The Shield, for example) may have given the same general effect but without some of the nuisance that comes hand-in-hand with ‘found-footage’ (though, speaking of the style, I was very impressed with how the it was used to its greatest degree in the film Chronicle from earlier in the year).

Ayer’s narrative is a bit disjointed causing a slight pacing problem, as well. Most of the narrative is structured to be a character drama, and in this regard the film is very successful. All the principal characters are fleshed out and given moments for the audiences to get to know them, relate to them and take a stake in them, which makes the film that much more powerful and affecting. However, Ayer also tries to insert a thriller narrative into the second half, probably to beef up the action (since there is already a good cop character drama about the LAPD this year in Oren Moverman’s Rampart). The issue is that the thriller narrative does not develop until deep into the film, leaving all the character stuff (which is all great) to feel slow in retrospect, as if the film is just waiting around until something happens. The structure feels a bit like a TV series story arc rather than a tight film narrative (as films need to be much more economical due to time constraints), taking its time to develop deep characters while peppering in action here and there. Ayer does hint at a more action oriented sub-plot, which dominates the end of the second act and beginning of the third act, but he does not make it the focus, rather putting everything into character moments and day-to-day life of the cops, thus when the thriller narrative takes over, it does not flow organically. The end result is the pacing being a bit off and therefore the film feeling slow in parts, which adds to the tediousness already felt from the shooting style.

However, all Ayer’s character work and realism makes the drama very effective in its manipulation of the audience’s emotions (unless they are the few that are completely put off by the style, and there probably will be a few). The audience is completely invested in Brian and Mike, and even deeply care about what happens to them. Thus, the thrilling moments are all the more gripping and dynamic. In this, the film leaves the viewer emotionally taxed by the end.

End of Watch is really a great character drama, and it works best in that capacity. The action and thriller moments work more due to the audience’s stake in the characters than on their own merits. Fans of cop centric crime dramas will enjoy this film (assuming the shooting style does not put them off).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: I am not sure if any director has more of a niche than David Ayer does with cop films (maybe Wes Anderson with Wes Anderson style films). While I like his script for Training Day, it is really Antoine Fuqua’s film, which leaves Harsh Times as Ayer’s best work prior to End of Watch. Both Harsh Times and End of Watch are very gritty in their style, though Harsh Times is much more daring with its protagonist. End of Watch has two characters that are very safe for the audience, and that means they are easy for the audience to like and get behind. End of Watch is probably Ayer’s best film to date, but I personally like Harsh Times more because it does not feel as much as an attempt at a typical Hollywood-style narrative in terms of its characters (plus, End of Watch’s ending lets the narrative off the hook a bit dramatically, but it is still poignant).

The work of composer David Sardy, cinematographer Roman Vasyanov and production designer Devorah Herbert is all complimentary to the aesthetic style that Ayer wanted for the film – primarily found-footage with some documentary-like stuff thrown as well. The film has a very realistic feel, from the characters to all the sets and wardrobe. It looks and feels like they filmed it in the real neighborhoods that it takes place in (and they very well might have) with real police and criminals (for the most part). The score backs up the emotional drama of the narrative, but is overshadowed by a great soundtrack.

The acting is fantastic in the film. Natalie Martinez and especially Anna Kendrick are great in supporting roles. Neither is really given that much, but they both make the best of it. Kendrick completely wins over the audience as Brian’s girlfriend (with wonderful little bits like her early morning snooping through his wallet). Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal are very good as Mike and Brian. They are both very likable and charismatic, which invites the audience to care about them. Their chemistry and use of humor is also paramount to the film’s dramatic success.

Summary & score: End of Watch is one of the best cop dramas in a long time (maybe since The Departed). 7/10


  1. This seems a good drama .After reading this blog thinking about my free time when I can get the time to watch this and can find the such good cop story