Mention David Ayer, and you'll probably remember his run of gritty crime thrillers that he either wrote, or directed, or did both, with films such as Harsh Times, Street Kings and Training Day part of his filmography. To spice things up a little bit stylistically, the found footage makes its debut for this genre, just as you're wondering how much more this technique can be pushed without boring, or irritating through its constant jerkiness. And Ayer has milked the technique gracefully here, with a little bit of a cheat of course.
End of Watch may have ridden on the gimmick of found footage, where a narrative gets assembled from a camera, or multiple cameras, usually charged with extended battery life, and an invisible hand at splicing the footage together. But here's the catch - David Ayer and his editor Dody Dorn never got too hung up with whose camera we're actually peering from at any one point in time. It could be from the cops, it could be from the thugs, it could be from CCTV or video cameras mounted in patrol cars. Or it would just be. Not before long, you too will likely not care about the plausibility of certain angles, or presence of somebody else around to have taken that shot, and while this could get on the nerves of purists, I would recommend to let it be, and let the story take control instead.
The narrative follows two beat cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), thick buddies and best friends for life who take on the meanest districts in the city of Los Angeles. As part of a film course project, Brian carries with him a video camera to record his days at work, and ropes in Mike to also carry around pinhole cameras which they wear at their breast pockets. Additional footage come from the multitude of cameras strategically located in and around their patrol car, and then some. But don't get too flustered or bothered as the film wears on in determining who, or from where, a camera angle is taken from, because you'll deem it worthwhile to just focus on the story instead of the gimmick.
And the story just about covers all the sexier aspects of policing, with danger at every turn, unexpected for the most parts in what may seem like a low risk, routine patrol call or response. It's episodic, and almost day in the life of, as we trace both men's personal lives, and public ones when they adorn the uniform, which as one line in the movie puts it in rather straightforward fashion, that they're police officers and everyone wants to kill them. So much for law and order, with a little black humour thrown in for good measure throughout, because I suppose in jobs like these, you need to keep your chin up, with trust being a valuable commodity whether it is earned from within the same department, or even respect gained from those on the other side.
But it's all not fun and games as we patrol the streets together with Brian and Mike, since we see different facets to policing, from criminal gang violence to domesticated ones, right down to an unexplored subplot involving serial gang killings. There's a maxi-arc that runs along the entire film with the Mexican drug cartels, especially with our protagonist duo taking it upon themselves to launch some deeper investigations, or at times stumble upon something much larger than what's at face value. What's more, there's also a stinging criticism at the inefficiencies of US intelligence gathering, with the myriad of agencies and departments usually getting in one another's way, or that red tape prevents pertinent information from going through to the right parties, resulting in the unnecessary loss of lives when it could have been prevented.
Their personal lives also get a little lift from the film, and it's quite brilliant how Ayer managed to weave in a romantic subplot for a film as serious and gritty as this, without losing its edge. Mike has an amazing relationship with his wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) and their story involves the birth of his kid, while that of Brian's relationship issues deals with his meeting of what he deemed as possibly the One in Janet (Anna Kendrick). Both female roles may not be much to shout out about, but their short appearances bring about a good balance to the testosterone levels in the film, steering away from the dread in the streets toward something to look forward to, and expands the protagonists' characters a lot more in providing a different view and aspect of their lives.
But what I value most about the film, is not about the police procedures, or the set action pieces which were as realistic as can get. It's about the friendship and camaraderie formed with another human being who's put in the same boat as you, with heavy reliance on one's partner to be able to be there, or back you up. It's the basic formula of a buddy cop movie done extremely right, with focus on the bond the two men share, and especially the very candid manner in which they discuss almost everything under the sun when in their patrol car. It humanizes the characters beyond their roles and uniform, and this is what makes End of Watch so engaging from start to finish. Another winner from David Ayer, and a must watch film of the year.