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End of Watch

September 24, 2012

Over the past few years, a bright light has been shown on the world of drug and human trafficking exposing its gruesomeness to news readers across the world. This year’s news cycle alone revealed that ex-drug lord Griselda Blanco, known as the godmother of cocaine, was shot down in a “motorcycle assassination,” a method of killing she made famous during her reign. All throughout Mexico mutilated and decapitated bodies have been found on farm properties, on the sides of highways, and hung off bridges. A current investigation is even being held due to a recent prison break in Mexico resulting in 131 escapees, orchestrated by Mexico’s largest drug cartel, Los Zetas. With crimes like these sweeping headlines, it’s no wonder Hollywood has dipped its hands into the brutal reality taking place across the border. Training Day writer and director, David Ayer, does an admirable job of revealing the atrocities of the Mexican Drug War in End of Watch, a dramatic buddy cop film.

LAPD officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is shooting his day-to-day shenanigans as a project for a film class he is taking. Decked out with a personal camcorder and a handful of miniature digital cameras, Brian’s footage captures him and his partner’s, Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), reassignment to patrolling South Central. The duo quickly gains accolades for their heroic deeds and impressive busts that ultimately leads them into the sinister world of drug and human trafficking. While the two are looking to clean up the streets, a growing Hispanic gang is attempting to gain control over the drug trade in L.A. by any means necessary, making their presence known to rival drug cartels and top officials. Brian and Mike unknowingly stumble into a hole they can’t dig themselves out of resulting in personal hits on their heads from a top drug lord himself.

End of Watch is a gripping, heart-pounding story that owes its charm to Ayer’s exceptional character development and Gyllenhaal and Pena’s alluring interaction together. The two have an amazing chemistry with one another and it’s easy to assume the two are real like bff’s off screen because of it. When the film is not focused on intense moments of action, scenes switch back and forth revealing hilarious and tender moments between Brian and Mike as the cruise around in their patrol car having mundane conversations, making jokes at the expense of each other, and giving each other sincere, caring advice. Through these scenes viewers discover the innermost thoughts and desires of both men as they discuss everything from their futures, to their love lives, and even their ideals of wearing a badge. Their personal relationships are even touched on with strong performances from both Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez who play the men’s respective lovers.

Although End of Watch is smart in its delivery for a “found footage” movie, using the technique nearly ruins it as a whole. The film starts with a high-speed chase involving Brian and Mike shown through surveillance footage on their patrol car. It then transfers filming duty to Brian as he introduces himself and his job to his camera. Brian’s footage alternates between his handheld camera that he’s repeatedly told to put away, and the mini cameras he and Mike have strapped to themselves. However, as the film continues, the possession of the camera and source of the director becomes more confusing and inconsistent. Some shots derive from personal cameras used by on both Brian and Mike, but also the gang member’s personal story is told due to their own moments of filming themselves doing drive-bys and prepping for crimes. Yet, for some reason, there are a slew of other shots that come from an unknown third perspective which just doesn’t make sense.

In one scene after Brian sleeps with Janet she records herself the  morning after quietly revealing her giddiness for him while he sleeps on the bed next to her; good filming decision. The scene prior to this reveals Brian and Janet making out in his room right before coitus, complete with tight close-up, shaky shots that move around as if a buddy was called in to film them; bad decision. Who’s filming in scenes like this? Why even include such omnipotently shot scenes if the characters hold the filming duties? The indecisiveness of who controls the filming distracts from End of Watch and any creativity it possesses at times. Also because of these discrepancies in filming, the time frame is virtually non-existent. Brian meets Janet and goes on to date her, become engaged and ultimately married, but because we’re watching their relationship unfold through found footage, the time clock on certain footage and the fact that Brian is still filming for his class brings up an important question: did they do all that in like two months!? Who are they, Britney Spears and Jason Alexander?

Although Ayer seems to not be able to make up his mind of whether he wants the film shot by the character’s perspective or his own, he does a phenomenal job of making an engaging crime drama with strong performances and heart-pounding action. It’s a film that’s terrifying in its realism but also endearing for it as well. The interaction between all characters, minor included, is well acted and funny, allowing viewers to gain well-rounded perspectives of nearly every character we meet. Almost hitting the two hour mark, End of Watch packs some incredible punches that had me craving more; perhaps a weekly drama following Brian and Mike on their calls. If Steven Segal can do it, anyone can.

SEE IT. It’s a great movie despite it’s visual inconsistencies.

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