Once upon a time in South Central…
Having spent a large period of his teenage years on the troubling streets he’s so often returned to within film, American filmmaker David Ayer’s personal connection to Los Angeles is a proven inspiration for many of his productions. While the setting is a direct influence from his past, Ayer’s films are not entirely autobiographical and follow an LAPD officer in South Central, Los Angeles.
The experienced writer for classics Training Day and The Fast and The Furious, who can also boast directing credits for Street Kings and Harsh Times, is clearly very comfortable within the action-crime genre. Yet to depart the comfort zone of his familiar genre Ayer once again casts a narrative from the same mould of his previous films. End of Watch is another buddy-cop flick which follows two LAPD officers working within the dangerous South Central neighbourhoods. The film begins with a depiction of the police officers’ repetitive lifestyle, but when the duo confiscates a small cache of money and firearms in a routine traffic stop they uncover a much more dangerous criminal underworld; crossing paths with a notorious cartel that truly puts their lives on the line.
End of Watch presents the intense action, stereotypical gangbangers and engaging narrative typical of an Ayer production, but also alludes to a delayed venture from his comfort zone. In a contrasting style to other films, which are shot traditionally, Ayer, with the aid of cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, opts for a handheld, character-filmed aesthetic. While it’s been proven many times before that this stylistic option intensifies action sequences, it comes with an unintentional side effect of an unnecessarily uncomfortable and dizzying experience. Even worse than this the film is littered with errors where the filmmaker abandons this stylistic choice and relies upon establishing shots and more traditional techniques that oppose the original intention.
In preparation for their roles Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña experienced a crash course with the LAPD and their resulting performances inhabit the physical appearance of police offers impressively, but it’s their interactions that are truly magnificent. The partnership captures a fantastic, natural chemistry and their off-screen friendship leaks onto the screen with improvised dialogue, as well as unscripted banter, that makes their characters all the more genuine.
Despite the strong performances, well directed action sequences and engaging narrative, its major flaw is unforgivable. It would be easier to dismiss a poor stylistic decision from another director, less experienced within this genre, but Ayer is attempting to fix what isn’t broken. Disappointingly, if it wasn’t for the ridiculous handheld style End of Watch would be among the best films of the year; let alone the best buddy cop film ever made.