14 November 2012

End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)

There are a number of reasons I'm not generally a fan of cop dramas. My stepfather was a cop, I'm generally resistant to authority, I find them strong on machismo and weak on sociology. They tend to feel sad and tense and generally oppressive. More generally, they tend to overly simplistic, reactionary, and borderline fascistic. This film is a typical buddy cop drama in a lot of ways, but it sidesteps a lot of the frequent weaknesses. The characters are more developed and the dialogue is stronger, for starters. The approach is more naturalistic, even though some of the subject matter is really kind of sensationalistic. Given the news reports about the Mexican drug cartels, it doesn't seem like anything here is particularly implausible though.
The focus of the story is the relationship between two beat cops who work in South Central LA. Played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña , they seem relatively authentic. Gyllenhaal is the war vet taking courses so he can go to law school. This higher education justifies the film's strangely half executed found footage conceit. He's recording everything for a documentary class he's taking to satisfy an arts requirement. The found footage conceit in the original script was apparently scaled back during preproduction, and some viewers seem to find its vestigial presence more confusing or frustrating than anything else. Personally, I didn't get too invested in the conceit. While watching it, I assumed that the video would somehow come into play as evidence, a turn of events that is foreshadowed by another cop's remark about the dangers of filming their work because it could be subpoenaed. Ultimately that ended up as something of a red herring, but I still found that that constant thread of the filming somehow made the characters seem more human. It was just this running bit that gave a sense of continuity. Peña's character is sort of a romantic and the head of a young family. There is a certain sweetness in the way that Gyllenhaal seems to follow Peña's path with his best girl Anna Kendrick, whose milquetoast quality works oddly well here.
I made a mistake partway through the film of looking at the film's Wikipedia page because I wanted more information about the director and supporting cast. It turns out there's a spoiler embedded in the title. It seems like it might not be much of a spoiler if you've seen the trailer, which I haven't, but as someone who knew nothing, it alerted me that the film was going in a somewhat different direction than I was anticipating. After that, it became pretty clear how the film would end. I thought it would surprise me for a while, but then it didn't. So sad. Oh well. As a whole, I found the cast relatively strong and the characters relatively sympathetic, which is probably something of a feat in a film like this.
When I was thinking about this movie it reminded me of my thoughts during the film festival. How do you give an objective assessment of a film? I have my own ways of assessing films, usually based on how much they stir me in the gut or in my head, but sometimes the rubrics people use in assessing film don't seem to make sense. This isn't really my genre. It's sort of predictable, the characters may be a little sanitized, it's kind of dour sometimes. Still, considering the genre it really excels. It made me appreciate what cops do in a way that few films have inspired. I grew very fond of many of the characters, even a couple of the thugs in the neighborhood. There are these great ironic moments, like the one where the dynamic duo is arguing about a rubber band while gangland assassins are in the car behind them discussing whether or not they will attempt to kill them at the stop sign they're approaching. I don't know that I'd watch it again, but it impressed me in what it did well. I don't know that everyone would like it, but I'd probably recommend it to most people, as long as they don't mind movies that are kind of serious. It's strange to me that this film was written, directed, and produced by the writer of The Fast and the Furious.

No comments:

Post a Comment