The “Buddy Cop” genre has long been fertile ground for Hollywood storytellers: Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs., Bad Boys, 21 Jump Street… I could go on. The point is, it’s always a welcome surprise to see a trite format being applied in a fresh and compelling way. Writer/Director David Ayer, who has been responsible for other police procedurals such as S.W.A.T., Street Kings, and most notably Training Day, has done just that in his new movie, End of Watch. Unfortunately for Ayer, the frenetic action and devoted cast cannot elevate End of Watch from simply being another mindless addition to the canon.
The film follows a few hectic weeks in the lives of partners Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) & Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), two LAPD cops who patrol the streets of Compton. All the classic genre tropes are present: they chase down drive-bys, they get in shootouts, they cross the wrong criminals, they “are out of their jurisdiction”, and they risk their lives with wives and children at home. The twist is that the story, if you want to call it that, is told entirely in the documentary-style “found footage” format, a la Blair Witch Project, or more recently, Chronicle. While this makes for some exhilarating, visceral sequences, it’s ultimately End of Watch‘s biggest downfall, as the reality of a camera’s presence in a scene is abandoned and re-introduced as it serves the cinematography and editing. Why is Jake Gyllenhaal’s character filming everything they do, even as he’s canvasing a house for gang members? Why do the bad guys have cameras? Who is filming during the love scenes? How can one explain a camera angle that has no justifiable reason for being there? Perhaps it’s just one critic’s torn opinion, but every time the phenomenal chemistry and performances of Gyllenhaal and Peña allow the audience to suspend their disbelief, the questionable rules of the film consistently undermine them. And while this makes for a perfectly watchable movie, it also makes for a forgettable one.
End of Watch opens today in Philly-area theaters.