Thursday 6 December 2012

Review: End Of Watch

End of Watch follows the story of two L.A. Police officers (Gyllenhaal and Peña) as they face the day to day trials and responsibilities of their job. Whilst the two guys are just carrying out routine, some local criminal gangs have however formed a grudge against the two cops after they stick their nose into their business one time too many, and set out to rid of the duo for good.

Watching the trailer for End of Watch (embedded below) may leave you expecting a fully blown-out action spectacle that focuses of guns, fights, chases and drug gangs more than anything else (which, don’t get me wrong, are most definitely present throughout the film). Yet the film is in fact more than just that. The focus on the film – which forms the driving force and the heart and soul of it all - lies within the idea of the adopted brotherhood between the two police officers. The casting of Gyllenhaal and Peña is a brilliant one, with the actors providing two very good performances as two men who are culturally very different, but are connected by a unique central relationship that comes through the roles and pressures of their job: the strong theme of brotherhood in the service, and the responsibilities of looking after another man's life whilst venturing together into the dangers of the world. The film takes its time to explore this relationship in depth in order to create a moving emotional core as you become very quickly attached to the two men and both the ordinary and extraordinary sides of their lives. This also forms the basis of the element of humour that pulses through the film (which makes scenes of the pair simply driving around the city highlights of the film), and a definite homoerotic undercurrent that brings the film closer to being a buddy movie/bromance than the advertised crime action thriller.

The heart and soul of the film lies in these simpler moments.

Yet as enjoyable as it is to watch the relationship between these two actors develop and respond to the surroundings, the film is more than slightly flawed: it's all over the place!

Stylistically, End of Watch never seems to quite decide what it actually wants to be. The film opens with Gyllenhaal's character breaking the fourth wall by talking to the camera, establishing the idea that the film is being shot by him (with a handheld camcorder and other supporting cameras hidden on shirts and in the car) for a college project in his spare time; promising a found footage film. This idea is extended with the occasional footage from gang members being shot on home video cameras too. It doesn't take long, however, for that notion to unravel as more types of shots that can't possibly have been shot by the characters start to appear through a conventional documentary style approach that creates a mockumentary feel. Then there are moments throughout the film that seem to forget both of these ideas and adopt the standard Hollywood fiction style of shooting. And as if that wasn't enough, certain scenes - especially toward the film's climax - implement POV video game style shots from the firing end of a gun (resembling something that you'd see in a Call of Duty game): confused? Exactly!

The found footage idea provides an interesting concept, that quickly descends into a confused and annoying mess.

All of this goes on to further unravel the realistic approach that the filmmakers clearly intended to achieve with End of Watch. The idea of realism is crucial to the film as it makes the emotional connection that we establish with the two male protagonists even stronger. It is the use of the found footage/mockumentary approach that allows us as the audience to feel closer to the characters and understand them more as we gain full access to the personal lives of fictional beings that are presented as real life people. However, the opposite effect is often evoked as a result of the found footage shots. The fact that we see some of the gang members inexplicably filming their criminal activities through town on a camcorder (the footage of which was obtained how exactly?), and the fact that Gyllenhaal's video project seems to go on for months, if not years, makes you realise through these unrealistic moments that you are in fact just watching a fictional film. To further that point, the POV video game shots in fact undermine the entire point of the film by putting you into the two cops' shoes; placing you into the moment, as opposed to focusing intimately on the relationship between the two cop characters that the film should have achieved instead.

End of Watch promises a police action thriller, surprises and pleases with an intimate character study between two male L.A.P.D cops, but ultimately disappoints with both style and substance that's all over the place. The problem lies within the film's divide between the real and unbelievable; a documentary style built up considerably by found footage shots allow us to get up close and personal within the lives of the characters, but often reminds you that you are merely watching a fictional piece with the unrealistic explanations for the shots found within the narrative. In the end, End of Watch becomes confused with its unrealistic and forced over-the-top action set pieces (put in to please the masses) being placed next to the slower tempo realistic shots which in turn feel unbelievable as a result. Despite an entertaining and emotive performance from two strong leads, End of Watch wants and attempts to be many things, but ultimately suffers for trying to be all of them at the same time.

Verdict: 3/5

End of Watch (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen End of Watch? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

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