Tuesday, May 7, 2013

End of Watch

(David Ayer, USA, 2012)

Surprisingly good.  The subject of the film, and by far it's strongest element, is the friendship between the two principals, played excellently by Jake Gyllenhaal and Micheal Pena.  Ayer is a gifted writer and a keen director of actors, and both of his principals clearly enjoy the work and the script that Ayer has given them.  Formally, the movie takes some interesting steps to distinguish itself from being just another buddy-cop flick: it uses, in a way that's perfunctory but still effective, the found-footage device to depict the action, and it plays the two-dudes-in-blue dynamic as naturalistically as possible, which results in both great laughs and affecting drama. 

Ayer's bailiwick has by now been pretty concretely settled as the gritty, noirish Cop Drama.   He understands the landscape and the characters exceptionally well - he excels at depicting the pathos, the ritual, and the paradoxes that exist on both sides of the Thin Blue Line.  But End of Watch establishes that he's no fetishist for the form; while it never veers too far from its inborn constraints as a policier, it does exhibit a sensitivity to the private and inner lives of the characters.  To be sure, it's a modest ambition at best; the good guy/bad guy divide is disappointingly pat, and the characters are too consumed with the action-leaden beats of the plot to reveal all that much about their lives, but the films commitment to the details is admirable, and makes what could be a depressing genre exercise into an emotionally engaging work of storytelling.

(The visuals are sometimes pretty inspired; Ayer gets impressive mileage out of his use of compact HD cameras.  The action scenes are tense but easily become excessive; he gets across the mayhem but doesn't quite manage to connect it to the story he really wants to tell - that of the emotional bond between the lead characters, which it wouldn't be incorrect to identify as love.)

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