Found footage has reached of fever pitch of notoriety in Hollywood nowadays. Sure, the one major gem of the genre in recent memory is Chronicle, the smart, dark, and emotional superhero drama from earlier this year, but besides that, even when found footage has drifted in comedy (a la Project X), it just continues to be more and more conventional, poorly written, and bad. So I didn’t really expect much for End Of Watch, even when the good buzz started rolling in. For me, found footage had run its course, and setting it as the basis for a thriller would be a nauseating rollercoaster ride that you just cna’t wait to get off of. Is it one of those? End Of Watch follows LAPD Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala as they get marked by a notorious cartel after they find a stash of illegal weapons and money.
Jake Gyllenhaal was someone I wouldn’t usually say could convince me to see a film. That is, I didn’t exactly find him a credible, good
actor until I saw the engaging and incredibly smart 2011 thriller Source Code, in which Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely rocks the leading role with incredible emotion and charisma. In End Of Watch, Jake Gyllenhaal brings an infectious lovable energy and life to Brian Taylor, and since this is one of those rare action-thrillers that puts its runtime into focusing on the characters, you actually come to appreciate Gyllenhaal’s performance and the character, but especially his relationship with his partner. Speaking of his partner, I think the best performance is given by Michael Pena, the rising star previously featured in last year’s Tower Heist. Michael Pena is a lovable, fun and often funny character that’s well developed and well acted to the point where you care about him very much do. If there’s anything the film botches, it’s the complexity and acting of the villains, especially the cartel lord (I assume), named, and I kid you not, Big Evil (because, as he says early on in the film, “his evil is big”). The villains are just predictable, horribly acted, flat, and unconvincing. The only thing really making them a credible, believable threat is the rifles they carry around.
For the first hour of End Of Watch, I thought I was watching an episode of Cops. I’m not just saying that because it felt incredibly realistic, but I’m also saying that because nothing really happens to move forward the plot. The characters are well-acted and devloped enough to keep you engaged, but if the plot to this film was more spread out evenly amongst the runtime and fleshed out a bit more, this film would’ve been a lot better. That said, when everything gets going in the second half, it’s really good, with a building intensity and shocking nature that builds to an edge-of-your-seat, emotional ending. If only that could’ve been spread out and lengthened to make up most of the film, because the second hafl certainly moves by fast, and it would’ve been nice not to have the episode of Cops as a prelude to the whole plot.
The direction to this film is great, especially in the opening scene. It’s gritty, realistic, engaging, and although I had my complaints to the plotless-ness of the first half, the benefit of having it feel like an episode of Cops at points was that it felt so real. Very dramatic, and intense, but still somehow very really. There’s the random scene now and then where the shaky cam is too much for director David Ayer to handle and it gets a little out of hand, but for the most part, it works well.
End Of Watch surprisingly cares about its characters more than anything else, and that makes everything else so much better. The action is more engaging, and the emotions are more real. Sure, the first half needed some help, but the last twenty minutes are really, really good, and Ayer handles score and music in a found footage film well, also deciding to throw in thought-provoking, dialogue-driven, and often funny pokes at the issues of race, gangs, and drugs in Los Angeles. It may definitely scare you away from South LA and being a cop, but it’s definitely a rousing celebration of the work they do. It’s a cool good vs. evil story, and although it’s not perfect, it’s definitely the first thriller in a while that’s worth a watch.
FINAL GRADE: ★★★★★★★☆ (7.5/10 stars)
FINAL SAY: It has troubles getting the plot going, especially in the first half, but End Of Watch succeeds because it’s well-acted with it’s focus on the characters, creating a gritty, intense, and realistic cop thriller.