It sometimes feels like an homage to Michael Mann but David Ayer’s ‘End of Watch’ is still a remarkable film.
Mann’s obsession with L.A. is no more prevalent than in movies like ‘Heat’ and ‘Collateral’ and Ayer, the writer of L.A. set ‘Training Day’, seems to be following suit.
Officer Taylor (Gyllenhaal - ‘Donnie Darko’, ‘Jarhead’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’) and partner, Officer Savala (Peña - ‘Babel’ and ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’) are the pride of the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.). They are more productive than a caffeine overdosed Starsky and Hutch, but their on-the-street fortunes take a turn for the worse when a Mexican drug lord orders their assassination when they stumble upon one of the largest ever drugs hauls L.A. has ever seen.
The movie opens with a car chase and instead of going down the traditional route, Ayer opts to shoot the scene through the lens of Officer Taylor’s handheld camera.Ayer threatens to show the entire film this way but opts for a bigger, wide angle and more powerful cameras for the showpiece scenes, the combination works really well.
There’s one scene in particular when the use of the handheld camera is totally justified. Both Officer Taylor and Savala are on patrol in their car when Taylor questions Savala about paper work; Savala denies everything but just when Taylor looks away, Savala makes a face to the camera. It’s as if the audience is in the car with the two men and in on the joke.
‘End of Watch’ is certainly not one of the most original films of 2012 but it’s definitely one of the year’s most entertaining. The two main characters, Taylor and Savala, have been well created by Ayer but it’s Gyllenhaal and Peña who make them real, plausible and worth caring about.
In his character conjuration of Taylor and Savala, Ayer succeeds where so many writers fail. The audience gets to know both men and it’s because of this that the film’s finale has the ability to raise heart rates - it’s tense, menacing and utterly brilliant.
Most of what happens in ‘End of Watch’ is largely predictable but it doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable.
Ayer also has a tremendous talent for making daytime feel just as threatening and as aggressive as night. There are scenes that happen in the middle of the day that will have audiences jumping about all over the place and the same can be said for when Ayer chooses to certain scenes at night.
The characters tasked with carrying out the killing of two police officers appear ruthless and have very little regard for human life however, Ayer fails to dedicate enough time to them and as a result it feels like their personalities have been under written and under utilised.
In particular, Big Evil (Maurice Compte - ‘The Dream Catcher’ and ‘Showtime’) and La La (Yahira Garcia) are reminiscent of ‘The Wire’s’ wonderfully ill-boding Snoop and Chris Partlow but unlike the aforementioned, Big Evil and La La get very little screen time and their characters are reduced to gun wielding monosyllabic grunters.
There’s a plot construction scene at the beginning of the film where Taylor, Savala and other L.A.P.D. officers raid a party thrown by Big Evil and despite the feeling that violence is imminent, Ayer never revisits it in the same way.
Instead, Ayer spends the next half an hour focused on the personal lives of the two officers and whilst this is essential it would have been much more absorbing had he had Taylor and Savala more acquainted with Big Evil and La La.
Whilst a lot of what makes ‘End of Watch’ so engrossing is its adrenaline pumped action sequences the scenes where Taylor and Savala exchange good natured insults, stories and give one another advice are just as enjoyable.
The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña is special and captivating. Gyllenhaal is already a Hollywood leading man but for years, Peña, has had to settle for small parts in big movies; ‘End of Watch’ should do wonders for Peña’s career as he’s a very capable and skilful actor.
VERDICT: 4/5 - ‘End of Watch’ is a film with a simple premise - well meaning cops versus badder than bad, bad guys. It works. Despite the film’s somewhat cliched take on life as a L.A.P.D. police officer Ayer is on top form, both as writer and director. Some characters feel a little under-utilised but it’s a minor transgression in what is a highly entertaining film.