Monday, 3 December 2012

Review: End of Watch

Year: 2012
Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frak Grillo, America Ferrera

Synopsis is here

I was quite bowled over with End of Watch. Its combination of the mundane and the visceral really appealed to me. My girlfriend was less impressed, frustrated by the film's running time. I was less bothered by this. The film is in no way as economical as it could be, with the films length allowing some of its narrative aspects to almost trip it up. However the film is less about its narrative and more about its characters. For me, the film is effective when we gain the sense of just how haunted these police members are as they battle against the grimness of their eco-system.

There is visual inventiveness within the film too. End of Watch's cinematographer Geoffrey Jackobsson, confines these two officers within their police car. Note that the ironic and unfortunate district number is often caught as we cut around the vehicle with abstract Micheal Mann like shots. It's within this car we get to know these men personally. We see them at peace, see them at their sanctuary. This ideal only intensifies as we witness the danger the officers’ face each time they pick up a call and exit the vehicle. 

Much has been said about the films "found footage" aspect; often a bane of contention with many, here, I found aesthetic to be one of the film’s best touches. It's easy to feel that such an element is a gimmick thanks to the consistent use of the tactic by horror films, however, in the same way a director like Martin Scorsese uses 16mm to capture a feel of nostalgia and history, Director David Ayer uses the "handy cam" footage to accurately convey a certain sense of relevance of our current culture. Its opening sequence, a car chase with downtown LA, doesn't have the pace that we often see in a crime thriller (such is the beauty of good editors), but it does have the realism. Take away Gyllenhaal and Pena and this could be any video lifted from youtube. Not all of it works. Like so many films which dabble in "user generated" footage; one may find it hard to believe that, say, hardened gangster would be filming some of their exploits in such a way. But while there's a feeling of the improbable, it's never impossible, and the film using the method as a part of the aesthetic and not the whole, allows an intimacy and immediacy that works well with the narrative and the genre. 

David Ayer (writer of Training Day) captures the distress of the situations so well it shows on the characters faces. Part of the film’s success with me is that; despite its somewhat generic plot, its grimness is boiled down to such a concentrated level you can feel it on everybody's skin. My girlfriend's aforementioned issue with the length of the film is an interesting one, mostly because I loved how the film happily spends much of its time with its main relationship, getting under the skin of these guys, seeing what makes them tick. We gain such a sense of these characters that when they are affronted with what they see, we can feel it in their bones as much as they can. We understand why they're so hardened, and we can fear and/or pity them accordingly. They remind me of coroners, having to place a shield between them and their subject to deal with their day to day harshness. It's compelling when the darkness breaks through.

You need a good cast for this, and End of Watch picks a strong bunch of talent and plays to all of their strengths.  Gynllenhaal is always at his best as a jaded, young recruit be it of the Army or Giant Time Travelling Bunnies and the choice of him being the main thrust of the narrative is a solid one. Pena is superb as Gynllenhaal's foil. While Gynllenhaal's Brian Taylor deals with the worrying conundrums of it all, Pena's Mike Zavala is the heart of the film. All emotions and hot blood, Zavala is the most instinctive and reactive out of the two. Pena's performance takes something that could feel stale and typical and injects new energy to it. The chemistry between the two is so engaging that one could easily just watch them shoot the shit. It's worth mentioning a sweet performance from Anna Kendrick as well as a nice turn from Frank Grillo, who places the perfect amount of weight to a small but important scene.

End of Watch doesn't do too much in way of fresh storytelling, but the films technique and performances bring forth a bold and riveting piece about two men trying to do good in a corrosive environment.