Writer/Director David Ayer’s latest film, End of Watch, employs found footage to tell the story of two LAPD cops, Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña), who run afoul of a particularly nasty cartel operating in the South LA. The basic building blocks employed here–honest to goodness good-guy cops struggle to do the right thing and bring down the badguys while their girlfriends and pregnant wives worry about them at home and their superiors give them stern talking-tos in the office–should have resulted in little more than a bundle of cliches. But End of Watch is better than that.
What makes it better for me is first and foremost the investment the filmmakers and actors make in the two lead characters. The concepts behind them might well be pretty common, but the details and natural charisma between these two more than overcomes the limits of the fundamental ideas. I really liked both of them a lot, and the time spent with them in the movie’s quieter, more joyful moments pays dividends when the shit starts to hit the fan.
End of Watch transcends its cliches as much as it transcends its genre. This is not a buddy cop film, no matter how much it looks like one. It is, actually, a horror film, and the found footage aspect functions less like Cops and more like The Blair Witch Project. I have seen a lot of cheesy scenes where cops run into burning buildings to save children, but never have I seen that scene made to look so much like two people fighting their way through such a hellish inferno. The cinematography keeps you very much in the moment, and in doing so allows you to realize just how downright terrifying it could be to be a cop. There’s also some intensely gruesome scenes that went well beyond the limits observed by some recent horror films I’ve seen.
The film also does a nice job of underplaying the horrors hidden around the next corner. It’s very good at making everything appear normal on the outside, before ratcheting up the nightmare in ways that would make Fulci proud.
End of Watch is exciting, scary, and effective, and it’s high on my list of best films I’ve seen this year.