Training Day writer David Ayer returns behind the lens to direct the gritty cop drama End of Watch, shot mostly via handheld cameras, allowing the film’s realism to excel even more between the two fantastic leads, played with pride and honor by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Although some of End of Watch suffers from typical Ayer gang stereotypes, a good portion of the film works as an exemplary piece of police cinema.
Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Pena) are brothers of the badge. They’re two LA cops that define the true blue mentality, often letting their own cowboy heroics get them into trouble. They don’t care though, as long as the law is enforced and as long as they’re the top dogs doing it. It’s about the law and what’s fair and to them what they do every single day makes the world a better place and they sleep better at night knowing that.
The concrete jungle is no place for two good-doing cops though and soon they realize that they’ve just been smacked directly in the center of a local gang war, which results in death and bloodshed on all parts. Brian and Mike quickly become the two most-wanted cops on the streets.
Training Day writer and Street Kings/Harsh Times director David Ayer approaches End of Watch almost exactly like he approaches the other cop dramas that he’s been involved with. He’s mostly interested in telling a darker and grittier tale, only this time he chooses to focus on two good cops, opposed to the usual crooked ones that he fascinates himself with. He also ditches (for the most part) traditional camerawork in place of handheld cameras to give the film a documentary feel.
This works in doses, primarily in the beginning and during most of the action. Scenes are escalated to pure intensity as Brian and Mike shoot their way out of darkly-lit alleyways, with almost no time to check their blind spots or catch a breath. Ayer uses the up-close and fast-paced camera work to his advantage during these moments, because End of Watch at times feels like an airtight adrenaline rush, with thrills around every corner. You never can quite expect what’s to come next and for that I credit Ayer’s choice to shoot on the fly and without caution.
But then the rest of the film comes weighing down. For starters, the film will randomly switch between planted cameras to traditional ones that are invisible to the actors on the screen. It’s a head scratching move, because it essentially pulls you out of the scene and makes you question the purpose of the “real” cameras opposed to the “fake” ones. Ayer would have been much better off if he chose one or the other and stuck with it. Switching back and forth confuses the presentation and muffles the execution.
Some of the film’s characters also go a little overboard. Ayer is known for working on gang-related cop dramas, yet every single gang member feels like a walking stereotype. The only lines most of the actors portraying tough guys ever get out are loaded full of cursing and thick (and barely passable) accents. The film tries oh so very hard to get you to believe that these people are indeed the real thing, but it comes off a little too forceful and really only lop-sides the emotions.
Ayer’s saving grace is the bond formed between actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. The two show superb chemistry and they make what could have been a gimmicky action flick something a little more special, with a deeply emotional core at its center. They’re brothers and not once do you question that.
As it sits End of Watch is a well-made cop drama that is unafraid to show you the realer side of police life. It doesn’t glorify LA’s finest, but at the same time it does a great job showing you just how much they can actually go through on a single given day. The story is Ayer’s weakest and most clean-cut, but it works as a performance-centered film that never completely ruins the handheld gimmick.
Universal’s Blu-Ray presentation of the film is a troubling one. You have a faithful transfer that covers the rough edges, spotty detail and washed up colors with ease. The problem here is that the transfer is rarely gorgeous or something to really pay attention to, but you can’t count that against the film too much, because director’s intention steps in and makes these glaring mistakes somewhat acceptable.
The film is supposed to look like it was shot with police cruiser cameras; so it should never look much better than that. It does, sometimes and those brief moments give the movie a more fleshed out look, but everything else is sort of good, but never great.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t nearly as shaky as its video counterpart. This track is almost always on the run, with gunshots and the sound of people running frantically on foot always clogging up the back channels, giving the front channels a little room to stretch out the dialogue and general front-and-center noise. Scenes that take place in close-quarters tend to sound the best, because of the room echoing and the track’s ability to capture all of that detail onto one set of speakers.
Here’s a full list of the special features included in this combo pack:
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes (HD)
- Featurettes (HD)
- My Scenes Bookmarking
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
End of Watch is certainly David Ayer’s most accessible film yet. It features two strong protagonists with enough day-to-day conflicts to keep your mind moving and enough action to keep your heart pounding. The handheld filming style certainly gives the film an added layer of authenticity, providing you with a first-hand look at the mean streets of LA and the people that inhabit them. Occasionally Ayer drops the gimmick and the film suffers from it, but most of End of Watch is worth sifting through the not-so-good stuff.
The Blu-Ray disc looks decent (as good as it should look; I should say), sounds great and is well-rounded, with a serviceable audio commentary track and a sizable batch of HD deleted scenes. Universal was also nice enough to include a DVD as well as two different types of digital copies.
Fans of Ayer’s constantly gritty and grim look at those that protect us might want to rent End of Watch first, because it is missing that crooked and corrupt angle that has made the rest of his films slightly more memorable. Still, End of Watch gives us two explosive performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena and for that reason alone, it’s worth a watch.
David Ayer's End of Watch is an unflinching cop drama that uses the handheld approach to heighten the drama and escalate the tension. Gyllenhaal and Pena also turn in two explosive performances in the process.