September 16, 2012



David Ayer’s END OF WATCH brings a new wrinkle to the “found-footage” genre by using it in a cop movie.  LAPD Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) wires a camera to his uniform, and constantly photographs what’s going on while he’s on the beat, supposedly to generate footage for a documentary he wants to put together; at other times, we hook into surveillance coverage from their vehicle, and video supposedly being shot by the movie’s street gang villains.  At this point, we’re all pretty familiar with the gritty hand-held aesthetic of this gimmick, and neither Ayer nor cinematographer Roman Vasyanov bring much that’s new to it.

Otherwise, End of Watch is mostly familiar stuff.  Ayer has written and/or directed a lot of LAPD movies, including Training Day, Dark Blue, Street Kings, Harsh Times and SWAT, and he knows his way around a uniform and a badge.  Unlike the protagonists in most of those pictures, though, Taylor and his partner, Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), aren’t very complicated or morally ambiguous characters.   They’re brash but good cops whose only sin is some over-aggressiveness.  Although the movie, which takes place over a period of about a year, does a nice job of creating backstories and personal lives for each of its heroes outside the job, and the friendship that forms between the partners is often charming, the found-footage genre and the fact that ultimately the two of them are just ordinary decent guys leaves limited room for drama.

The inadequacies are most obvious in the secondary characters, who are sketchy at best, even when people like Anna Kendrick (as Taylor’s civilian girlfriend), Natalie Martinez (Zavala’s wife), or America Ferrera and Cody Horn (as fellow cops) are playing the roles.  Even worse are the villains, who are strictly vicious street gang cartoons.

What plot there is concerns Taylor and Zavala stumbling onto a bust where they take custody of a great deal of cartel loot, and then the wait for the cartel and its local representatives to figure out who they are and inevitably take action against them.  This all ends up exactly where you expect it will, and the only question is how things will play out as between the two partners.

Ayer does a proficient job, both visually and with the actors.  Gyllenhaal is successfully tougher on screen than he’s been when he’s tried before in movies like Prince of Persia and Jarhead, and Pena is strong in support as he always is.  Finally, though, there just isn’t enough in End of Watch to set it apart from any number of the cop movies or TV shows that have preceded it.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."