END OF WATCH
1/2 star out of 4
Coming off a mash-up of the TV shows "Cops" and a bloody and profane edition of "Frontline," "End of Watch" plays out like an overlong clip-show compilation of a putrid reality program as a feature film in length only.
In the wake of two other mostly superior traditionally filmed crime dramas ("Harsh Times" "Street Kings") writer/director David Ayer has gone the "found footage" route with "End of Watch," a stone ugly looking film made all the worse by the lack of anything resembling a cohesive narrative.
Opening with the police chase of an SUV through the streets and alleyways of L.A. via a police dashboard cam, "End of Watch" makes it clear that Ayer plans to unsettle us by showing the unpredictability of life as uniformed cop. In between the nearly dozen mundane and light-hearted scenes of the leads chewing the fat while on patrol are harrowing passages where their lives are seconds away from death every time they leave their vehicle.
Together for an unspecified period of time, partners Mike (Michael Pena) and Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) truly love their work and believe they are making a difference. Their beat is South Central -- one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. -- but they approach their work with a mix of wide-eyed optimism and unflappable macho bravura. To make them appear even more normal and adjusted, Ayer includes roughly 20 minutes of their private lives, one with a pregnant wife and another with a new love interest.
When out of their patrol car Mike and Brian are all business and take no guff. They will manhandle (or woman-handle, if need be) anyone not following their orders and in one scene Mike accepts the challenge from a suspect to settle their argument via a street brawl in a bedroom. This would never happen in real life, nor would most of what takes place in the rest of the film. For a movie that strives for reality, it plays out more like every lawman's fantasy.
Every call the duo attends to feels sensationally over-scripted and every suspect a threadworm caricature. They also seem to be in the right place (or one offering potential glory) at exactly the right time. For instance they stumble upon a fire, save two children and summarily receive medals from the mayor. Another happenstance incident shows them sniffing around a house without any probable cause and ferreting out a human trafficking ring. They're sixth-sense super cops.
Another thing that wouldn't fly in any police department in this country -- Brian is a part-time film student chronicling every move he and Mike make with mini shirt-pocket cameras while also toting around a dated and bulky hand-camera. In addition to flagrantly violating their own department's policy, this method of filming is awfully hard on the eyes. Jerky to the point of causing motion sickness, the photography is highly inconsistent, poorly lit, lacking in color and an overall unneeded distraction.
During a gunfight in the last act Ayer commits the most egregious of all cop drama faux-pas by having the leads run through a rain of bullets coming at them 20 feet away from above out of four AK-47s and only being hit once -- in the hand. If the movie seemed only a little hard to swallow up to this point, this stretch throws it all into laughably ludicrous territory.
Ayer's final insult comes in the last two scenes where a crushingly somber moment is followed by the last of the film that appears culled from the home video blooper reel. Not only does it cancel out the seriousness of what we just saw, it is the final insult and one that reminds us that we're simply watching a movie -- one of the worst yet of 2012. (Open Road)