Buddy cop films have been around since the dawn of time – not literally but you get my drift. A list that is seemingly endless when we consider flicks such as ‘Turner and Hooch’,’ K-9’, ‘Bad Boys’, ‘Lethal Weapon’, ‘Dragnet’ and so on. I have barely scraped the surface with that little lot, and in amongst this genre have been some fantastic blockbuster movies, carving lasting characters in to our memories, most notably probably being the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series.
Today’s movie review is a stark change from the norm, thus far I have re-opened case files on some older favourites of mine, but today I am going to be current. Excited? You should be a bit.
As touched on in last week’s ‘Wednesday Watch’, the general public (although mostly moronic), possess an infatuation with Police and their day to day experiences. Unfortunately, thanks to below par television and wildly creative but ultimately bullshit movies, the general public only get a skewed version of patrol life.
Thankfully, every once in a while, a movie like ‘End of Watch’ explodes on to the screen and re-invigorates and re-imagines how Police can be portrayed on the silver screen. Before I go in to full gush mode, let me just say this is in my top five films of 2012.
I had very high expectations going in and was relieved that my early optimism was not misplaced. David Ayer, the director, is a chap I have grown a true affinity for over the last decade. His first foray into plod territory came in the brilliant ‘Training Day’, before moving on to the below the radar but equally fantastic ‘Harsh Times’. Mostly, his stories are punchy, affecting, and original and contain fractured characters that are very well rounded and believable. Much of this same is contained in ‘End of Watch’.
‘End of Watch’ marks Ayer’s directorial debut, the script was written over a period of days and the entire production process was speedily wrapped up in just over 18 months. Similarly, the narrative rockets along and rarely lets up marking an interesting parallel with the original creative process. The film feels urgent and fizzes along with a frantic energy.
Initially, the jumpy handheld nature of the filming is jarring and not particularly comfortable but this is smoothed out as the characters develop and the action ratchets up. The glue that holds all this frenetic energy together is the truthful relationship between the two protagonists, Brian Taylor (Jake Gylenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena). As we dip in and out of the myriad of action set pieces, much screen time is spent within the confines of their patrol car. The two leads bullshit each other and discuss their deficiencies, families and deepest concerns. Whilst there is a slight overuse of “bro” talk, Ayer’s script deftly brings the viewer into this private arena and consequently allows us to understand both men, who are at the end of the day, simply humans doing a job.
These interchanges between the very likeable characters are the highlights of the film, which is a huge compliment considering how excellent the action is. Essentially, each grizzly incident that Taylor and Zavala come across is handled expertly. The shaky cam adds another angle to proceedings and throws the viewer full force in to the throng of the gun-fights. Interspersed with the violence are several disturbing locations that the two officers happen upon and they leave a memorable impression The film is shot in a similar vein to something Michael Mann might produce given the same subject matter, the colours are vibrant and much of the action is under the cover of darkness only elevating the atmosphere of fear and tension.
I am not going to say that everything rings true though. One particular scene where Pena’s character has a brawl with a local hoodlum was a little contrived and pushed the limits of believability. Plus, the third act dices with blockbuster standards of action. But, the film gets away with this and that is down to the work put in to develop the characters early on and also the way in which those set-pieces are delivered. This is not Michael Bay.
Gylenhaal and Pena are excellent throughout. You can tell that the prior research put in has been taken seriously and the performances that they put in are of the highest quality, with particular credit to Gylenhaal. It’s great to see this fine actor in something vital again, after turgid blockbuster fayre like ‘The Prince of Persia’. He excels here and is ably supported by the accomplished Pena.
As the credits began to roll, I felt a genuine warmth for what had proceeded, without ruining the ending it is difficult to translate my emotions but I cared for the characters, in the same way I cared for Christian Bale’s doomed character in ‘Harsh Times’. I will continue to watch Ayer’s career with great interest.
David Ayer, congratulations, you have done ‘the job’ proud.