Cast: Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), Janet (Anna Kendrick), Gabby (Natalie Martinez), Orozco (America Ferrera), Sarge (Frank Grillo), Van Hauser (David Harbour), Big Evil (Maurice Compte)
Director: David Ayer
Theatrical release: 09/21/2012 DVD Date: 01/22/2013
Rating: R Running Time: 110 minutes
Note(s): Original screenplay by David Ayer.
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Review: Let's start out by saying that Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are absolutely brilliant in this crime thriller. Peña seems more comfortable in his role — it fits him like a finely tailored driving glove — than Gyllenhaal, who still makes the most of his. The film is worth watching if only to listen to their characters — Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, respectively — banter while they patrol the streets of South Central Los Angeles. An entire movie could have been made from these scenes; unfortunately, there's more and almost everything else that is included is so inferior that it really hurts the film as a whole.
This is a found footage-style film, which in general I find is an affectation on the part of the filmmaker as it adds little, if anything, to the viewer experience. Much of the film, maybe most of it, is filmed from the perspective of a personal camera, whether it be a typical camcorder, smartphone cam, micro-camera, or anything else that's handy. It's jerky, uneven, at times blurred, and all intentional. What makes it even worse is that these shots are intercut with standard steady-cam shots, filmed from the perspective of the director. The constant back-and-forth between handheld camera and steady-cam is probably more jarring than if the film were entirely comprised of handheld shots. Nevertheless, some viewers enjoy this style of filmmaking; I do not number among them. (Yes, I knew about how the film was made before choosing to watch it. Normally I would have passed, but the dynamic between Gyllenhaal and Peña in the trailers was so compelling that I took a chance.)
There isn't much of a storyline here, and what little there is I couldn't follow. But that didn't matter much to me as long as Taylor and Zavala were on screen. I have to say, though, I found the final confrontation between the cops and the gang to be far too melodramatic and not consistent with everything that preceded it. Without giving too much away, anytime Taylor and Zavala called for backup, it arrived in minutes. In the final scene, backup is nowhere to be found — both characters comment on that fact, too — which comes across as a plotline convenience, and not "real" (in the sense that everything before it was intended to mimic reality). This important and key scene should have been handled better.
Aside from Gyllenhaal and Peña, the other performances are forgettable. Not that they're bad, it's just that by comparison they merge into the background as little more than noise. (That's not strictly true. I found Anna Kendrick's character, Taylor's girlfriend and later wife, rather annoying. They have absolutely no chemistry as a couple, but again, that might be because Taylor and Zavala are so good as one.)
End of Watch is worth seeing. But I'm disappointed that the director — who also wrote the screenplay — couldn't leverage the outstanding performances of the two leads into producing a better film overall.