After writing or directing at least five films about law enforcement in Los Angeles, what new element could filmmaker David Ayer possibly bring to End of Watch, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as beat cops patrolling South Central L.A.? The excuse this time is a found-footage approach to the material. Most of the imagery here is made to look as if it’s coming from squad-car cams, surveillance devices or the various cameras that Gyllenhaal’s Officer Brian Taylor carries on him as part of some vaguely defined project. It’s a bit like watching the Paranormal Activity folks tackling a police drama – or an extended episode of television’s COPS – and proves to be the picture’s fatal mistake. Ayer is no Paul Greengrass, so there is very little of the discipline and precision required to make this inherently chaotic technique work. Many of the action scenes are incoherent, the camera placement isn’t consistent and it’s often laughably forced (the most common line is “Get that camera out of my face!”). The overall impression is that this is a Tony Scott film made with less flair and cheaper equipment. If there is a saving grace, it’s the chemistry between the two leads. Gyllenhaal and Pena are very funny and completely in sync, able to trade quick comic barbs or sustain a lengthy dialogue scene about the seriousness of marriage. Yet their presence is completely at odds with the movie’s dominating aesthetic. It’s telling that the scenes between them – easily the film’s best – are shot from a traditional camera angle and with hardly any editing at all.
The movie equivalent of a Johnny Cash song?