Sunday, January 19, 2014

End of Watch (2012)

Director: David Ayer                                    Writer: David Ayer
Music: David Sardy                                     Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, David Harbour and Anna Kendrick

David Ayer’s End of Watch is more interesting than it is compelling. The conceit is that this is a video project by police officer Jake Gyllenhaal for a class he’s taking. The cinéma vérité style of camera work combined with the rap/hip-hop style of music certainly makes this a film for modern audiences. At the end of the day, however, there is little story involved in Ayer’s script. It is more the experience of the film itself, the look and feel, and the pulse pounding of the soundtrack that seems to be the point of the whole thing. What emerges most from the script is the relationship between the two men, Gyllenhaal and his partner Michael Peña. In addition there is a subtle cultural tension between the two men that their relationship manages to resolve. They are partners first, “brothers” Gyllenhaal calls them, and men second.

The story begins with a high speed chase through South Central Los Angeles, a grim, spare neighborhood of mostly minorities. The point of view is from the car’s camera, with the time and date displayed on the top, like so many reality shows about police officers in the field. When the police car finally moves up alongside the car and spins it out, the occupants jump out and begin firing but are killed by the two officers. Finally, Gyllenhaal and Peña emerge in front of the bullet-riddled windshield of the patrol car. It’s here that the reason for the visual style is established in the locker room, with Gyllenhaal’s video camera and two clip on cameras for he and Peña’s uniforms. The two men have been determined to have acted within the legal bounds for the shooting, but unfortunately have suddenly gained a new vision of themselves as Supercops, an attitude that will result in the tragic ending of the piece.

In addition to the camaraderie between the two men, there are a couple of other threads that entwined themselves in the story. The first is the relationships that the two men have with women. Gyllenhaal is in search of a woman that he can talk to, rather than a bimbo who simply wants to sleep with a policeman, of which there have apparently been many. Peña, on the other hand, has been married to his wife since he graduated high school. This model of what marriage could be like is an inspiration for Gyllenhaal in his relationship with Anna Kendrick. Her secret taping of herself on his camera while he sleeps is incredibly endearing. The second thread is the criminals that the men interact with on a daily basis, including a black crime leader who comes to have incredible respect for Peña and his partner after a confrontation. But there are also Hispanic criminals who are far more ruthless and inhuman that loom over the proceedings like a bad omen.

Jake Gyllenhaal, like a lot of young actors, has a single persona that he trots out for every film he’s in and winds up conforming the material to his own personality rather than the other way around. With his character being a former Marine, this could easily be the sequel to Jarhead. Peña is a bit more versatile. His role as the scared rookie in Shooter is very distinct from his confident patrolman here. At first the two seem like Mutt and Jeff, especially with their cultural differences. But it really works well in the end. Their discussion of the women in each other’s culture, reinforced by vocal imitations, is quite funny, and the picture also wisely ends on just such an episode. End of Watch is an interesting experiment. In some ways it is a clichéd story, but is told in a unique way and does have a lot to recommend it.

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