From the writer-director of Harsh Times, comes the pretty average cop drama,End of Watch. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as partners in the LAPD, manning the streets of the notorious South Central district of LA, the film tries to portray events from the point of view of the policemen as much as possible. But this plan fails and what starts off as kind of genius becomes part of the film’s mediocrity.
It’s ingenuity lies in the questions it makes us ask. Although I think its aggression and emotional formula are on the same level as a lot of cop-dramas, it makes a really interesting point about the way we consume information about the police and the sources of that information.
Its most obvious way of doing this is to have Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal), start a film project and use the footage he collects to introduce us to his colleagues, capture car chases, document crime scenes and talk us through his day including the calls he answers, the weirdos he meets and his great banter with partner, Mike Zavala (Michael Pena).
Director David Ayer’s chosen subject here is partnerships and to his credit, he presents many dimensions of a variety of couplings that are essential to the force but also sacrificed in service to it. As well as the heartening brotherly love between Gyllenhaal and Pena, we see America Ferrara and Cody Horn as their colleagues lamenting the way that rookies can compromise their experienced partners. Frank Grillo as their superior orders us to empathise with said rookies and David Harbour as a lone ranger struggles with his humourless take on policing and we are effectively nudged to have empathy with him too. Humour, as Ayer’s characters show us, is essential to survival in a job like this.
But while his range and his characters are excellent, the whole police POV thing doesn’t quite work, mostly because Ayer feels like he has to set it up in order for us to get it. Is it really necessary for Gyllenhaal’s character to be taking a film class? This is a film afterall, Ayer’s can shoot it however he wants without giving one of his characters license to give their perspective. Unless the point he’s making is that police are rarely given the chance to give their perspective to a viewing public. If so, you could argue that they get to give their perspective where it matters most, in the courts.
It’s also really frustrating that he doesn’t bother giving Gyllenhaal anything to do with the footage he’s captured. It wouldn’t be so bad if he were a bit more thorough with the first person perspective but if you’re paying for Jake Gyllenhaal, you want his face in your film, so of course we seem him from a regular third person perspective as well as his own and his partners.
Not sticking with the first person angle also allows Ayer’s to show us the completely banal conversations between the gangsters who form the major, if short-lived, plot line when they put a hit on the two city cops. Their activities are depicted with appropriate abhorrence but my god, their conversations are ridiculous. The cops have much more to offer so why not stick with them? Particularly as the violent plot turns towards the end of this film, war-like as they are, could also be completely captivating if we hadn’t been spoonfed what was going to happen.
What starts off as interesting, if a little obvious, gets even more obvious but maintains its emotional core and although it becomes quite formulaic with that sentiment, End of Watch does pull all the right strings.