End of Watch (2012)
David Ayer, known among other things for penning Training Day, now returns to the harsh streets of South Central Los Angeles to fight crime – for the fourth time in a row as a director, actually. Clearly he feels there is work to be done there, and judging by the culture, people and discourse portrayed in this film, it seems like a political disaster area, to say the least. Since I have never been west of New York City, I cannot speak for the validity of what Ayer presents here, but if South Central is actually populated by people who act and speak like the characters in End of Watch, they are living caricatures. That's true for most every supporting character in here, and to a degree also for our protagonists, police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Peña). They patrol these sun-drenched streets waiting for dispatch to send them to the next crime scene, where they encounter continually more mindless gangsters and gruesome horrors. In between, they chatter and have a good time, and we almost get to know them as human beings, although there's not that much interesting about them. They're your standard TV-show cops, updated with a little more gangster lingo and – as a pleasant surprise – enthusiasm for what they do.
They're also updated with small chest-mounted cameras, which Taylor intends to use for some sort of university project. This is of course merely Ayer's excuse for telling his story with a shaky, subjective camera. As always, this is tiresome to watch, but I like it far better here than in the numerous ineffective horror movies of late (popularized by Cloverfield). It gives the film an intensity and realism (Ayer's intentions exactly) which elevates the plot and creates some nail-biting suspense – especially towards the end. In some of these scenes, there's actually reason to believe you're watching events from real life, but the Hollywoodish ending duly arrives to get us back to earth – in exchange for a few cheap tears. Here be spoilers: The climax scene is both dubiously motivated, unnecessary undelicate, and marred by an unrewarding instance of deus ex machina. Conclusion: End of Watch aims for hard-hitting, crisp realism - and succeeds to some degree, but not with any particular merit, because the film has far too many flaws, some of which are amateurish.