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End of Watch (15)
Cineworld, O2
13th November 2012

★★★★☆

If you thought the shakycam and found footage film was relegated to the unimaginative horror stylings of Paranormal Activity 37, you'd be wrong. It's now affecting the police genre - but happily in a much more stylish, well-considered way in End of Watch, the latest effort from Training Day writer David Ayer.

He's shaken off the problems of his last directorial offering, Street Kings. Where that was a cynical, predictable and brutal disappointment, this is infinitely more heart=warming, inventive and, well, still pretty brutal. But the Cops-style handicam footage interspersed with traditional filmmaking techniques seems to have given Ayer the shot-in-the-arm he needs - no pun intended - to have the courage of his convictions and make the most of the bantering, bromantic coupling at the centre of the South Central LA gang-banging and drug running.

The two cops in question are budding filmmaker Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhall) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), an amiable pair who patrol LA generally busting heads and hankering for a fight. But they are at heart moral guys, bolstered and humanised by their relationships with Taylor's girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick) and Zavala's wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) as well as, of course, each other.

Taylor's eager to document their work for his college class, with third-person and first-person taping of their daily duties. But things take a turn for the dangerous when they throw caution to the wind and find themselves in the middle of a Hispanic drug-smuggling operation.

It's a lot of what we've seen before - bright and hazy daylight cinematography washing out colours and leading to flashy night-time helicopter establishing shots, but what could have been a gimmick, the hand-held cameras, bring the action down to street level with a lot of flair. If you can look past the major incongruity and slight jarring of the two styles (especially when trying to work out whether it's an objective or subjective, presentational or representational, first or third-person account of events, and with the inclusion of a frankly baffling night-time shot pulled from FBI files), it really works.

The natural-realist performances of Gyllenhall and Peña are eminently believable and, as their brotherly relationship unfolds with Ayer's zingy if a touch clichéd script, they're easy to like. There's no overt politics to the white/Mexican divide save a few slight digs. This dynamic is hardly original - see Dean Norris as Hank and Steven Michael Quezada as Gomez in the superb Breaking Bad for the zenith of this - the script is caring, kind-hearted and free of bitterness. Martinez and (obviously) Kendrick do bang-up jobs of the women who love them without resorting to simple fawning and eyelash-fluttering.

But it's not all lovey-dovey. Far from it. From the high-octane opening car chase to the final shootout, the graphic action is breathtaking and the editing swift and tight. The ending is perhaps a little bit of a cop-out (second pun just as intended) but it still packs an emotional wallop similar to the shocking scenes we see alongside this great duo.

Ayer has carved a cracking buddy-movie thriller here and proved his work doesn't need to be steeped in negativity or tired tropes. I just hope you don't suffer from motion sickness...

End of Watch was released in the UK on 23rd November 2012.

Nearest tube station: North Greenwich for the O2 (Jubilee)



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