Just when you thought that you had seen it all, the movies are able to add another twist to an already familiar format. For several years now we have been subjected to the found footage film in one guise or another. The best of the genre such as horror films The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity have led to a slew of lesser and less interesting films including sequels to the aforementioned movies. Rather than dropping the style film makers have tried to expand the range of subjects covered. It comes as something of a surprise that a buddy cop movie is the latest to use the technique. From David Ayer, the director of Training Day comes the 2012 police drama End of Watch.
The film follows two beat cops in South Central Los Angeles. The first sequence sees the officers chasing down a couple of suspects and taking them down during a firefight. Everything is seen from the perspective of the in-car video camera. In subsequent scenes there are cameras covering their every move. From shirt mounted mini cameras to vehicle cameras and hand-held units they are recording everything the two are involved in while on patrol and in their personal lives. The set up is quite simple. Officer Bryan Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is recording everything for a project he is working on. His partner Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) is a little reluctant at first. He soon comes round to the idea though. The duo are returning to their squad after being cleared of any wrong doing in a shoot out with suspected gang members. The cameras follow their every move both professionally on the streets and in their private lives. Intercut with their own footage is scenes filmed by the local gang and what they are doing. The cops have gained a degree of notoriety for their actions regarding the gang and now they have a price on their head.
There are several things that mark this out from the standard buddy cop drama. First off is the language. The two cops speak to each other in a very naturalistic way. There is no convoluted wise cracking and bravado. It is clear that these two are partners and as such act like they are related to each other. They chat about nothing, insult each other and generally talk about whatever is going on. It doesn’t feel totally structured. Quite loose really. Secondly, their attitude to the work is refreshing. They are good cops. There is no haunted dark side in either of them. Neither has a dark brooding side that is only kept in check by the care of his partner. They are professional. The way they conduct themselves during calls is totally in sync and rehearsed. They know what they are doing and work confidently together as a team. There are no mavericks here.
I was a little apprehensive about the extensive use of the found footage style. Fortunately it is done very well and uses a clever twist. For each scene there are at least four cameras recording the action. With skilful editing the scenes are put together very well keeping the viewer engaged and the story moving on. There has been a good deal of thought been put in to the use of this technique. I sometimes feel it is used for the wrong reasons, usually to try to mask a low budget or lack of believable story. One criticism that has been levelled at the film is the inter cutting with the gang members filming themselves and some DEA footage. Some feel that the use of the footage is badly handled and not realistic. Given the volume of self-made video clips and the number of criminals who are arrested in possession of incriminating video clips on their phones I would have to disagree with that particular argument.
The two leads, Gyllenhaal and Pena, work really well together. They have obviously put a lot of work into developing a relationship which translates well to the screen. Gyllenhaal in particular is on fine form. It would have been easier to adopt a default cop persona and still be good in the role, instead he chooses to portray the character in a very realistic way. Michael Pena is no mere supporting actor in this . If anything he is at least the co-lead. His character avoids the usual clichés associated with non white police officer characters in Hollywood police dramas.
Overall a refreshing and innovative take on the police procedural. Recommended.