'Watch' breathes life into familiar genre
By Christy Lemire, Associated Press
September 28, 2012, 5:06 pm TWN
You've seen the buddy cop movie a million times before, especially the mismatched buddy cop movie. Having the police officers come from different racial backgrounds is an especially tried-and-true element of this genre; it allows them to make fun of each other for the way they talk, the stuff they like, the activities that take up their free time. It's good for a reliable laugh, in theory.
You've also seen the found-footage movie a million times before, beginning with the precedent-setting “Blair Witch Project” in 1999 and again in recent years following the success of the low-budget 2007 horror film “Paranormal Activity.” A character carries a camera around everywhere, documenting everything, or maybe a camera just happens to be rolling and it captures secret or strange goings-on we wouldn't be privy to otherwise. It's a conceit that reflects the narcissism of the iPhone generation. Why wouldn't we record everything we do? Everything we do matters.
All of this brings us to “End of Watch,” which combines these two approaches: It's a racially mismatched buddy cop movie in which the cops record their daily activities while on patrol, from mercilessly teasing each other in the squad car between calls to tracking bad guys through the dangerous streets and narrow alleyways of South Central Los Angeles.
But admittedly, the found-footage aesthetic infuses the film with both intimacy and vibrancy; it creates the illusion that what we're watching is unscripted, and so we feel like we don't know what's going to happen from one moment to the next. And co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have such tremendous chemistry with each other, they make you want to ride alongside them all day, despite the many perils in store. As they insistently goof on each other in often hilarious fashion, their banter reveals not just an obvious and believable brotherly bond but also the kind of gallows humor necessary to make the horrors of their profession tolerable.
This is also familiar territory for David Ayer, who has extensively explored the complexities of the LAPD and the crime-infested parts of town its officers cover in films he's written and co-written (“Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.”) or directed (“Harsh Times,” “Street Kings”). Here, he suggests he's developed a deep appreciation for what these men and women do. “End of Watch” isn't a propaganda film by any means — its officers still make some questionable decisions and go looking for trouble where they shouldn't — but the greater good of the department and an unflagging sense of fraternal loyalty are paramount.