Coming from director David Ayer, the man behind the pointless Harsh Times (2006) and the unintentionally hilarious Street Kings (2008), I figured End of Watch would not be good. What I didn’t expect is a movie that’s not only unequivocally awful, but one that manages to be both amateurish and insulting to one’s intelligence in the bargain.
Shot in a lousy attempt at realism, the film mixes in found footage elements, under the guise that one of our protagonists — LAPD officer Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) — is shooting a documentary of his job for some pre-law film class. There are some issues with this, the least of which being this might be the world’s longest film class since we sit and watch Brian go through dating, becoming engaged to, marrying and impregnating his significant other (Anna Kendrick). More major is the flippant, careless nature in which Ayers approaches this aesthetic.
At first, the film has a tendency to cheat its first-person perspective, shooting from angles that’d be impossible from either Brian’s camera or the one attached to his partner Mike’s (Michael Pena) shirt pocket. As the film goes on, Ayer slowly abandons the home video aspects of End of Watch, raising the question of why the amateur approach exists within the film in the first place. It adds nothing, neither within the scope of the plot (which is hardly existent beyond following a couple of LA beat cops around) nor within its style. Instead, it’s a choice that’s either distracting, confusing, or — like the sex scene that appears to be creepily filmed by some unknown third party — unintentionally hilarious.
Of course, the real reason Ayer has gone this route is to create authenticity at very little financial cost and effort, with the trade-off being zero stylistic or compositional forethought being put into all of the grainy shaky-cam stuff. The bottom line is that any chance End of Watch had at creating a realistic world is shot to hell once the camera starts rearing its ugly head into everything, right from the opening shot. Plus, any idea that the movie is somehow above its schlocky horror movie brethren is wrong, too, since the film likes to dive into the same gore and violence as those films. The idea is to be shocking, but this stuff wouldn’t pass muster in even the corniest of horror flicks.
All of this makes for a visually infuriating movie with a meandering plot. This is buddy-cop basic, and while a lot has been made in some corners regarding Gyllenhaal and Pena’s chemistry, it’s so buried in an avalanche of contrivances and clichés that the very rare bits of humanity hardly matter. Ayer — who’s still coasting on the reputation of the overrated Training Day from 11 years ago — just expects us to like these guys because they’re occasionally honorable. This, however, does not equal interesting nor likable, and the film really suffers by lacking a strong emotional center, especially when the big attempt at a heartfelt climax don’t quite connect. The poor stylistic choices and its need to be taken seriously (without the intellectual integrity to earn it) make End of Watch one of the more frustrating and trivial pieces of filmmaking to come around in some time. Rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use.