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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: End of Watch


END OF WATCH  (Also Two Disc Combo: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: David Ayer, 2012 (Universal)

End of Watch is a pretty damned exciting Los Angeles buddy-cop movie, made with lots of energy and style. But it has one pretty big flaw:  Those damned cameras.

The cameras are the ones that keep trailing the heroes, everywhere. (I’ll explain later.) The movie, which was written and directed by David Ayer, the writer of Training Day and the director of Harsh Times, follows around two South Los Angeles cop buddies, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala (played lustily by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena), on their almost insanely over-active daily rounds of drug busts, fires, street battles and homicides. It’s an improbably jam-packed schedule, and it seems to include almost every possible LAPD crisis but World War III or an invasion from outer space,

While doing their duty and trying to keep each other alive to the end of the watch, Brian and Mike also manage to engage nearly constantly in explosive, four-letter-word-packed banter with each other, to have spicy off-duty love or family lives (with, respectively, Anna Kendrick as Brian’s girlfriend Janet and Natalie Martinez as Mike’s wife Gabby), to  get helped or hassled by fellow cops (including America Ferrera as Officer Orozco and Cody Horn as Officer Davis), and to get contracts taken out on them by the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. The Cartel is apparently a real organization (any product placement?), and their L. A. agents are shown here as a scurvy band of scowling psychopaths and degenerate hoodlums, who — with names like Demon (Richard Cabral), La La (Yahira Garcia) and Big Evil (Maurice Comte) and faces to match — seem candidates for an exorcism as much as as an arrest.

In the meantime, while all this is going on, Officer Brian also manages to shoot this movie, or at least part of it, with a handheld camera and some mini-cams for a class that he’s taking. The rest of the movie  (which includes all the reaction shots and cutaways and master shots that Brian couldn‘t possibly get), was apparently captured by their squad car surveillance equipment, by other handheld cameras run by the  (very cooperative) gangbangers , and, according to the press notes, by still more cameras operated by “citizens caught in the line of fire.”

If all this seems a little too found-footagey, it may also portend some great new golden age of cinema verite, where everybody, everywhere, is constantly shooting, or helping to shoot, movies about everyone else.  Here, it seems, almost every nearby camera or mini-cam (most of whom shoot their pictures in  pretty much the same bright, scintillatingly jerky visual style), seem to have gotten involved —  except maybe for helicopter crews flying overhead,  passersby and neighborhood filmmakers wandering by with cell phone cameras or camcorders ready to point at the action. and possibly  the Goodyear blimp.

Exactly who it was who found this spectacular found footage, gathered it all together from numerous sources,  and edited it into the movie now known as End of Watch, is something of a mystery. So is the complete lack of reticence with which Brian and Mike spout their obscenity-laced car confabs or relate the details of the lewd anecdotes they probably wouldn’twant their families or significant others to know about. Perhaps they’re forgetful. Perhaps they’re insane exhibitionists who really don’t give a damn. Perhaps Satan himself  is involved — though that’s probably another movie, and not one I especially want to see, unless they play it for laughs.

Ayer (who wrote the scorching dialogue for Training Day) does write and direct this movie-of-many-movies  with dash and style, though it could use more modulation and variety and even some occasional boredom, which is something I‘ll bet a lot of cops experience too — and which would make good dramatic contrast here. Gyllenhaal and Pena play together with crackling ease, though I found Pena the more convincing, and Martinez the more moving of the two ladies. The villains are a little too melodramatic, and so is the ending, which was also true of the end of watch in Training Day.

In any case, despite the whiplash cop-talk and the visceral impact of the performances and of Roman Vosyanov’s multi-purpose hyper-active camera work, this mockup found-footage format put me off a bit. Realism? Give me a break. After a while, I kept looking around for more cameras, trying to spot where they might be. I had visions of cops and crooks (and maybe even of Vosyanov and the crew from End of Watch) all circling around each other, trying to hang on to both their guns and their cameras, strenuously attempting to shoot each other in at least one sense of the word, perhaps even tossing the cameras back and forth to each other, or maybe, in the heat of the action, dropping the equipment (perhaps on a backyard trampoline, for a really unique shot), or stumbling over them — or losing them and later being blackmailed by the citizens caught in the line of fire or other passersby who picked them up. These subversive thoughts took me right out of the movie.

Of course, writer-director Ayer  didn’t have to stumble into this quagmire at all. He could have kept just one camera (Taylor’s) plus the surveillance equipment, and just not bothered trying to explain anything else, in the press notes or anywhere else. Since its all shot in the same style anyway (Vosyanov‘s),why bother? Actually, and I would have preferred this, Ayer could have forgotten all the on-screen cameras enturely, and just had Vosyanov shoot the movie any way they wanted.  Though I admit I would have liked to see that camera-on-the-trampoline scene.

Aping a camera style to help create the illusion of reality is nothing new.  The whole visual attack of the British late ’60s leftist-realist  new wave, exemplified by Ken Loach and Alan Clarke, was based on the immediacy and spontaneity of the location camerawork on British TV news. And Loach and Clarke and the others rarely tried to explain anything, much less have their characters lug around TV cameras. They just shot the movie, like Friedkin shooting The French Connection, which is all Ayer and Vosyanov had to do.

As a cross-reference for End of Watch, some writers and critics have cited Richard Fleischer’s fine, gritty 1972 film of  ex-cop Joseph Wambaugh’s ultra-real cop novel The New Centurions — which costarred George C. Scott (in one of his best roles) and Stacy Keach, as two partner-cops. But not everyone has mentioneded how superior New Centurions now seems: a straightforward, well-written, well-directed, well-acted show without a lot of visual flash and gimmickry. Think of how you could have ruined it by futzing around with the visuals too much. Maybe it’s a modern techno-fallacy. You’re not real until you shoot yourself (with a camera). Or so some movies would have it.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: End of Watch”

  1. lila chang says:

    I know this seems picky, and please don’t take this as trolling — but it’s really bad writing to say a movie is “pretty damned exciting” except for the flaw of those “damned cameras” in the span of two sentences.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon