End of Watch Review

So I watched End of Watch…

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This is a film that I can’t quite remember why exactly I didn’t watch it when it was initially released in 2012. I recall liking the trailer and Jake Gyllenhaal is probably my favourite actor so can’t think why I gave it a miss. Since then I’ve had it recommended to me one or two times but it was only when a close friend told me that I had to see it that I finally got off my ass and found a copy.

Okay, basic plot: Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Peña) are two LAPD city cops working the streets of South Central – one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the city. Brian is studying towards a law degree and decides to take Film as an art elective. Brian begins filming everything, from the interactions with his partner and best friend MIguel to the various duties they carry out as a part of their job. Brian and Miguel do good work but after a string of high-profile arrests the two find themselves in the crosshairs of some very powerful people. These two city cops find themselves wadding into a war far above their paygrade.

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I didn’t realise –  until the closing credits – that David Ayer wrote and directed this film. Ayer’s name still holds a bit of bad taste in my mouth after the (identity) crisis that was Suicide Squad; but he’s actually a very talented filmmaker. He wrote Training DayThe Fast and The Furious and Fury (which was on my list of top films of 2015 and top war movies of all time). Ayer displays his fearless creative vision and directorial skill amazingly with the look and feel of this film. The majority of this film is shot using handheld cameras and cameras pinned to the actors’ clothing. This provides End of Watch a feeling of authenticity that is second to none. You feel as if you’re apart of the action; every step the characters take, you take. You’re immersed in their expereinces and the line between spectator and participant becomes blurred and often completely erased.

The format in which this film was shot is the first masterstroke that Ayer performs, the second is his ethereal and organic script. We live in a time where Reality TV is not only an extremely popular genre but also an ersatz one. We all know these shows are scripted and edited in ways to sensationalise the mundane. Ayer does the opposite, choosing to let the mundane and the routine shine for what it is. He lets the natural emotions that these scenes carry take centre stage. Instead of heavy-handed dramatisation of the story, he chooses to work like an archaeologist with a fine brush, sweeping away the clutter and dust to reveal the treasure.

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Now, as is always the case, masterful direction and thoughtful writing are nothing without competent actors to bring these elements to life. The same way your skeleton and brain would be of little use without the muscle and skin that overlie them. Jake Gyllenhaal is the most underrated actor working in Hollywood. I don’t know whether if it’s that his movies aren’t blockbusters or he’s just always had such a high-standard of acting that we’ve become accustomed to greatness and now see it as ordinary? This is the second one of Gyllenhaal’s performances that deserved an Academy Award but didn’t even receive a nomination. His abscence from the nominees’ card throws the legitimacy of the entire Academy into disrepute.

I feel equally about the fact that Michael Peña wasn’t nominated for any significant awards. The level of acting that these two achieve in this film is godly! When an actor is able to make you forget that you are watching something that is false, something that is staged, something that is constructed to look real but isn’t; when an actor manages to fool you into thinking that the events transpiring on screen are real, that is acting. True acting. The two men immerse themselves in their respective roles and there is never a moment where you see anything but what they intend for you to see. There is no higher level of acting and the fact that their superb work was not recognised actually physically offends me.

Overall, End of Watch is one of the most authentic, genuine and truthful pieces of art that we have in a world filled with forgeries and cheap imitations. It is a work of fiction but one told in such a candid manner that it becomes true. It’s definitely worth watching, 8/10

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