End of Watch is an interesting re-imagining of the found-footage style notably established in the horror film Blair Witch, and most recently found in the film Rec, and Paranormal Activity trilogy as explored in an inner-city buddy-cop dramedy.
The film is shot entirely from Office Taylor’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) recording devices, with cameras pinned to uniforms, mounted to the dash, from the perspective of a group of gang bangers held by the film’s central antagonists in both high and low resolution. Sound cues, digital composites and jump cuts are also used to heighten the verite-style. The occasional shaky handheld and first-person shooter perspective is tasteful, and overall the visual style is effective, only becoming obnoxious when the plot brings the use of the camera into question, only to then dismiss it, and it becomes a little gimmicky. The viewer is distracted with a stupid question at the height of the drama, “who’s recording this?” The ending of the film especially suffers from carrying this trope on too long.
Office Taylor rides shotgun to his partner Zavala, a street-wise and dedicated husband with a sharp wit played by Michael Pena. These two rookie cops spend their patrol trading cracks at one another in a kind of improvisational comedy, discussing bigger questions of marriage and parenthood with elbows in each other’s sides. Back at the department and on the beat, we meet colleagues who take themselves too seriously, and petty criminals who don’t take them seriously enough. The first act showcases both characters who are immensely likeable, with Pena only slightly one-upping Gyllenhaal.
The film gets serious as these two wade recklessly into murky water, finding themselves in the middle of an ICE investigation in a human trafficking case. The boys are fingered early on by the Mexican gang responsible, and attempts on their life threaten to upset the careful balance of life and death, as Avila becomes a father and Taylor marries, with a child on the way. But life continues, and the two remain inseparable. It’s here that Director and Screenwriter David Ayer really proves himself. Having established himself in a niche with the 2001 film Training Day, Ayer honors his experience growing up in Los Angeles neighborhoods as kind of existential crisis that can only be survived through compassion, humor and willpower.
Ayer knows his audience well. The 30-something guys in flat-billed hats who show up will find something that resonates deeply with them, but plenty to laugh at in their defense, with their girlfriend’s sticking around for the more tender moments of birth, marriage and death. It’s a great date movie after all, and a great popcorn flick to close out the summer.