It’s about time someone did something interesting with the “found footage” genre.
“End of Watch” follows the everyday encounters of Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) on the streets of LA.
As he works toward a law degree, Taylor dabbles in a documentary filmmaking course. Through a series of small cameras, both Taylor and director David Ayer assemble a very intimate look of what it takes to be a cop in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.
There isn’t much of a plot to speak of in the film. Most of the scenes are just interactions between Taylor and Zavala during the daily routine of their jobs, which they are quite good at. This eventually leads them to being targeted by a drug cartel. All of this vaguely sounds like a plot, but “End of Watch” isn’t driven by a story. It is driven by the partnership of Taylor and Zavala, both on and off the streets.
With the film’s dependence on its main two stars, it lives or dies by their performances. In this case, that’s a good thing, because Gyllenhaal and Pena are fantastic in this cop drama. They are able to pull off every aspect of their characters with full efficiency. The funny moments feel genuine, the tense scenes are direct and none of it feels over the top (as is often the case).
Although “found footage” is a little cliche thanks to four “Paranormal Activity” outings and a handful of other horror films, “End of Watch” has a slight variation on the genre. Ayer’s film weaves back and forth between squad car cameras, handheld devices and other surveillance, but it isn’t limited to the protagonists’ cameras. There are even a few establishing shots throughout the film. Ayer sacrifices a little consistency in order to free his hands. If you can get over that, it does make for a better film.
For 109 minutes, the film’s documentary approach leads the audience in a thorough examination of the life of a partnership. Weddings, funerals, shootouts and hospital visits. The thin blue line is well on display here and it’s rarely been done better.