May 13, 2013

[Movies] End of Watch (2012)

The "found footage" format of movies has gotten pretty old pretty fast over the years. Sure, it was novel and creative when The Blairwitch Project first came out in 1999. But by now it has been used too many times without true purpose. Worse is when the director breaks the found footage illusion and resorts to flimsy excuses to have better camera angles such as a preponderance of mobile phones - I'm looking at you, Chronicle.

But End of Watch was surprisingly gripping despite (1) involving a lot of "found footage" style content and (2) the director deliberately breaking the found footage illusion with additional footage. It felt almost like an episode of that old reality TV show Cops or something. But despite crossing the line that I defined at the beginning of this review, the movie worked on so many levels. And that says a lot.

This movie have gotten mixed reviews because of its approach and its almost complete lack of a traditional Hollywood plot to follow. But those "deficiencies" are precisely what makes this movie so fascinating and that much more impressive.

Synopsis: End of Watch is a 2012 drama written and directed by David Ayer, who was also behind the movie Training Day. It is said that Ayer wrote the screenplay for this movie in only 6 days.

The movie begins with a high-speed police chase with police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Peña). The two are partners in the police force and longtime friends. And for some reason, Brian is determined to film their day-to-day activities for some sort of personal film project. Thus we have the excuse for the bulk of the "footage" for the movie since Brian goes as far as rigging up wireless cameras as lapels for both of them.

Thus we follow them around South Central Los Angeles as they respond to a wide variety of cases. We have the "little" things like domestic disputes and that progresses to cases like full-on gang violence. At first it seems like we're just watching a bunch of random police encounters part of their beat. But there's a longer-running story being developed in the background of these events until we get to the climax later on.

The movie is pretty much defined by the amazing camaraderie between Gyllenhaal and Peña. I mean seriously, there are all those buddy cop movies that try to achieve something close to what these two managed in this movie. And I don't know what kind of preparation they had to do to make things come across so authentic, but it really makes the movie such a memorable experience. Their on-screen interaction is enough to win you over and become emotionally invested in their story - and thus you feel the pressure of every risk that they take while on patrol.

At first I was a little confused by the decision to go with the somewhat reality show camera approach that they utilized. But when you stop over-thinking the why and just appreciate the effect it creates, then the movie becomes a lot more engaging - and surprisingly not that nauseating, which is a common problem that I experience with shaky-cam movies. The only major change in my general sense of well-being had more to do with the overall tension of the movie was we watch them go from danger to danger.

And no one spends any time explaining what's going on - you just have to put the pieces together yourself. And since we're following two beat cops around (despite Bryan's detective aspirations), you know that means that it's a lot of grueling, theoretically boring police work and not a lot of Hollywood action. There are gun fights for sure, but they're not done in a manner that tries to glamorize things, thus no dramatic camera angles or slow motion shots while a flock of doves fly off camera.

The movie will require a certain investment of trust and patience while things play out. Given the storytelling approach, it takes a bit of time to properly set the scene. But believe me, it's worth it in the long run. But I have to apologize - fellow Gyllenhaal fans will be disappointed in the lack of gratuitous shirtless moments of the ever adorable Jake. And yet that's still not a bad thing for this movie.

End of Watch is not your typical sort of police drama thriller, and that is where the both the challenge and the brilliance of the movie lies. Tobie and I enjoyed it a lot, and I think a lot of you will, too. So in my book, the movie rates 4 moments of the two flipping out given a possible 5.

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