Film: End of Watch

The cast/crew bit: written & directed by David Ayer, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña & Anna Kendrick

The ten-word synopsis: Two cops live their lives whilst uncovering a human trafficing ring.

My critical mentality when it comes the most important aspect of a film is clear enough. Nail your central characters and you’re just one step away from nailing the film. End of Watch also adopts this mentality. In fact, the best bits in End of Watch aren’t the shoot-outs and punch-ups shot with such intensity you’ll lose the function to blink, but the scenes in which our two leads simply drive around in their car, chatting.

Their relationship is believable, their dialogue sharp and their lives interesting. Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as Brian Taylor, an officer of the law who, by his own admission doesn’t “Agree with all of it”. If you’re to assign labels, he’d be the bad cop, but there’s so much more to him than that. Just because he plays practical jokes on other crime-fighters doesn’t mean he’ll be smashing heads on interrogation tables… Although that, in turn, shouldn’t stop you believing he’s above killing a man, even if it isn’t the only option. Michael Peña’s character, meanwhile, is quick-witted and hardy. Not above a spot of self-derogatory humour, Mike Zavala is a rarely human creation in the genre of Hollywood action movies. To see these two interact is a joy.

Sparks fly as they develop over the course of the film. Zavala’s marriage experiences ups and downs, while Taylor goes from flitting between ladies to deciding to settle down with a young lady called Janet. Anna Kendrick takes on this particular role, and, as ever, excels. She’s immensely watchable, and nails her character. The bad guys lack the pizzaz of Gyllenhall, Peña or Kendirck’s performances, but at least they are what they are. The film rightly decides not to invest too much time in trying getting us to know the villains of the piece or giving them redeeming backstories, a refreshing approach. When you’re rooting for the antagonists to be shot and killed come the finale, you know, from a dramatic standpoint, the films’ doing something right.

The other interesting talking point of the film is the decision to show it all in found-footage style. There’s four or five minutes at the start establishing that Taylor is doing a filmmaking course. For this reason, he has decided to shoot every moment of his cop life on a handheld camera. There are plenty of moments in which the film doesn’t look like it could have actually been shot from that angle and so on and so forth, but it’s never distracting. Whereas Paranormal Activity 4, for example, became irritating to the point of disturbance, I think End of Watch encourages us to want to keep watching. We want to see it from these new angles. That and, whereas found-footage horror films tend to just appear cheap, End of Watch is one of the first films I’ve seen where I’ve actually felt ‘put in the action’, if you’ll forgive the phrase. It invokes the first-person shooter video game genre more than anything else, providing the kind of intensity and involvement you only get by playing yourself.

End of Watch is the kind of film for which a list of emotions it evokes would be appropriate. A descriptive list, telling you just how funny, charming, exciting, intense and interesting it is would be great. Gyllenhaal puts in possibly the finest performance of his career, (And I talk as a die-hard Donnie Darko fan) while Peña establishes himself as somebody well worth keeping an eye on. If this was to be the last-ever cop movie, there’d be worse ways to end the watch than with End of Watch.

8 apologies for that terrible final line of the review out of 10

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