29 November 2012

END OF WATCH- Review

David Ayer is a screenwriter who's best known for a succession of films set in South Central Los Angeles, focusing on either criminals, police officers, or the relationship between them. From Harsh Times to Dark Blue, from the Oscar calibre success of Training Day to the franchise-launching success of The Fast and the Furious, the man loves his LA crime movies. And yet it's his latest, End of Watch, which has been described as the best cop movie ever made.

Set apart from the duality and corruption exhibited by cops in Ayer's previous films, this one centres around a couple of straight-up good guys, Brian Taylor and Mike "Zee" Zavala, as their patrol is reassigned from one district of South Central to another, more dangerous one. Brian is undertaking a filmmaking course to earn credits for his pre-law degree, and decides to film their working lives as a project, meaning that the film switches between an objective view, and the view of cameras belonging to the characters. Over a number of months, Brian and Zee manage to antagonise a powerful drugs cartel, and they just might be in over their heads.

As with other reviewers, I'm reluctant to call this one a found footage film, because its central conceit is a bold endeavour that doesn't always work all of the time, and lumping it in with found footage creates even more problems. We see the view from the dashboard camera of their patrol car, and Brian and Zee have cameras mounted on their lapels throughout the film, both of which are fair enough, but some of the perspective cameras seem to come from nowhere- there's one looking up each of their noses as they drive around, for instance.

Simultaneously, when it does work, it does a great deal to beef up the action in the film. When you see something on YouTube, shot on an iPhone, or some other smartphone, you don't doubt that it's real. Hollywood has been trying to mimic that jerky cinematography for years now, with very mixed results, but it does serve to intensify the events that unfold in this one more intense- most notably in a scene set inside a burning house, but also in just about every scene where Brian and Zee enter a seemingly deserted residence and explore. The first person perspective, if used well, seldom fails to engage the audience in the situation.

The main thing for which End of Watch can be recommended, however, is the strong chemistry between Brian and Zee, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. The best parts of the amateur footage they shoot probably take place inside the car, where they talk like normal friends would, about their lives, their concerns about the job and their plans for the future. Gyllenhaal and Peña are very endearing, and it invests you in what happens to these guys in a way that few other cop films can. Moreover, you see their lives outside the job, with the ever-adorable Anna Kendrick as Brian's girlfriend, and Natalie Martinez as Zee's long-suffering wife. That's the more valuable first person perspective on offer here.

The part where you realise that the semi-found footage conceit isn't entirely working is when you have the bad guys filming their own activities as well. Nobody in the film seems hugely concerned about recording evidence anyway- it works with Brian and Zee, because their consciences keep them on the level, but I'm really not sure why the cartel members are. Still, you do get a bit of the fabulously monikered Big Evil, played by Maurice Compte, being ludicrously profane. My mam sometimes exaggerates that I swear with every other word in conversation, but Compte really is saying "fuck" or "fucking" between each and every word. It's funny, before you become immunised to it.

End of Watch has a real knack for first person perspective, which is nothing to do with the increasingly less interesting found footage craze, and everything to do with the scenes that come across as Clerks meets Training Day. David Ayer mixes it up as he directs his own script, portraying good, likeable characters as opposed to corrupt bastards, and reaping the rewards of having the audience on their side. It's not that I don't like Ayer's other films, but this one refreshes his genre of choice in a very gratifying manner, even if the number of cameras floating around within the narrative becomes troublesome.

End of Watch is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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