' ' Cinema Romantico: End of Watch

Monday, March 11, 2013

End of Watch

To discuss David Ayer's latest bit of brutal balladry to the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, I need to discuss the end. Not that I'm going to give away the end, per se, because even if you could not figure out how it ends per Moviemaking Rules, well, that's not actually how it ends. Rather, it ends with a scene essentially connected to nothing, a standalone flashback just meant to revel in the day-to-day interaction, shit-giving and back-slapping, of our protagonist duo, two cops on the beat, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena).

Bromance ("the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males" per the Urban Dictionary) has become recurring subject matter at the cinema in the last few years and this is one of its finer illustrations. In fact, if "the f-word reaches the saturation point" in "Hot Tub Time Machine", as the esteemed Roger Ebert wrote, it might be safe to say the same thing happens to the word "bro" in "End of Watch." I cannot advise how many times Brian & Mike call each other "bro" but it is numerous. Their bromance is the film's strongest aspect, both in concept and execution.

Yes, they each have the requisite spouse. Mike has Gabby (Natalie Martinez), whom he married young and who encouraged him to join the LAPD, and Brian has Janet (Anna Kendrick, impressively nimble in a tiny role), whom he meets, falls in love with and marries over the course of roughly four scenes. Yet, the fact that we believe entirely in Brian's courtship of Janet is further testament to the camaraderie of Gyllenhaal and Pena because we get so many more details of their blooming love within their bro-laden conversations. Quietly it illustrates how Brian needs Mike's approval as much as he needs Janet's.

Their bromance is meant to gain added drama by the "Cops"-style way the cameras in their police cruiser make them feel so up close and personal. Ah, but there also is the rub, specifically in Ayer's odd decision to give this film an extra dose of "realism" by having it filmed by various characters with camcorders and teensy lapel cameras. It's written off by the fact Brian is making some vaguely defined documentary for some class we never see him taking but that fails to explain why ruthless Latino gangsters armed with AK's are going on hits also armed with camcorders. “Shut that camera off!” they shout again and again, but no one does. Never mind that the film keeps breaking its found footage essence with overhead shots and shots looking our characters straight on that could not have been filmed by anyone else, the choice stylistically seems wrong.

The found footage device is typically employed to enhance a film’s aura – such as last year’s “Trollhunter” which pre-supposes that we are watching footage shot by a few mysteriously vanished students - but here is no such subtext to these incessant handicams of “End of Watch." Thus, rather than forge an intimate connection with the audience it just feels unnecessarily forced and, in turn, too often annoying. Did Ayer not trust his own abilities or did he really think the occasional date and time stamp at the top of the screen was hip?

It hurts the film but does not ruin the film, nor does the neat & tidy mess of a third act. Instead, Gyllenhaal and Pena, never really caring if we like them but always caring that they like each other, negate the school project by inviting us into their cruiser for a thrilling bromantic ride-along.


Wretched Genius said...

This was one of my most pleasant film surprises of 2012, mainly for how natural the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena was. I also liked that the "plot" takes up roughly 10 minutes total, mostly at the beginning and end, while the rest of the movie just concerns itself with showing the day-to-day lives of the characters. And I agree that the POV stuff was inconsistent at best, though I wasn't as distracted by it as you were.

Also, this is Ayer's third film, not his first. He also directed Harsh Times and Street Kings. End of Watch is actually the last entry in a thematic trilogy.

Nick Prigge said...

As always, my "research editor" has been properly reprimanded.

Even the 10 minutes of the plot kinda rubbed me the wrong way because I thought it was too sensational compared to the low key nature of their brohood (?) but, like I say, those are mostly just minor quibbles. The chemistry won me over.