It’s getting to the point nowadays that any film using the “found footage”/fake documentary concept becomes instantly irritating. It may have worked with films like Cloverfield but many films just don’t need the concept. Films like the Paranormal Activity series use the concept for the basis of the film instead of an actual story. While films like District 9just abandon the concept mid-film and make it look like the concept was used just for the appearance of originality. End of Watch, the new buddy-cop film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, suffers the same fate as the latter. Luckily, it is saved by a cast that tries its hardest to be as realistic as possible.
End of Watch follows a pair of cops (Gyllenhaal and Pena) as they go through a breakthrough of successful arrests. However, as the duo make bigger names for themselves, their names also go up on the hit list for a cartel that has emerged in the Los Angeles area. The film is directed and written by David Ayer (writer of Training Day). While David Ayer’s writing is top-notch in this film (although some of the dialogue easily could have been improvised on the set and wasn’t actually a part of his script), Ayer’s direction of this film leaves a lot to be desired. He makes a half-hearted attempt to turn this film into a fake documentary (or found footage film or whatever you want to call it). While it works originally, Ayer quickly abandons it and the transition is not smooth. What results is a bunch of shots of a character holding a camera that is filming the action. Yet there is no added perspective from just simply using the footage from the camera that the character was shooting with. The entire style almost ruins what is a realistic and very touching portrayal of friendship. This could have been a much better film if it was just a simple crime drama in a regular format. It is a shame that Ayer didn’t have enough confidence in himself to do so.
Luckily, the cast is stellar in this film. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have perfect chemistry and completely carry the film. It is difficult to choose who gave the better performance because both performances are so dependent on the other. That is the definition of great chemistry. Anna Kendrick is given a thankless role as the girlfriend of Gyllenhaal’s character but she is typically charming in it. David Harbour and Natalie Martinez also leave an impression in short roles as a seasoned cop and the wife of Pena’s character respectively. It was also great to see Frank Grillo in another role this year (after his breakthrough performance in The Grey) as the police sergeant.
The cast brings their all to End of Watch, and this easily could have been a great film if David Ayer left this film to his performances. Unfortunately, he didn’t think they were enough and added a lazy attempt at a fake documentary film.