It’s a Chekhovian truism that if you introduce a gun in the first act, it had better go off before the end of the play.
That apparently didn’t register with David Ayer, who wrote and directed “End of Watch,” a competent but unremarkable new cops-on-the-streets tale starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Ayer, who wrote “Training Day” and directed the underrated “Street Kings,” sets us up for something he never delivers in this film.
The gimmick is a spate of tiny video cameras, deployed by Officer Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) to capture his life on the street. It’s meant to be a class project for a college elective he’s taking in his pre-law studies, a filmmaking class. So, aside from a handheld unit, he’s also got tiny cameras clipped to the front of his uniform and that of his partner, Mike Zavala (Michael Pena).
Taylor is constantly being warned by his colleagues and superiors about using the cameras. A fellow officer cautions him that his footage can be subpoenaed, should he get entangled in something that gets litigious.
It’s a gimmick that allows Ayer to deploy shaky handheld footage that gives the film the jittery look of a reality show like “Cops.” He even puts cameras into the hands of the Latino gang members who are on the opposite side of the law from Taylor and Zavala. Yet this key feature of “End of Watch” never actually figures in the plot beyond that.
More to the point, Ayer hasn’t made an entire film of so-called “found” footage. He repeatedly cuts away to shots that aren’t coming from anyone’s camera but his own. So – aside from that handheld look – what’s the point?
Beyond that come-on, the rest of “End of Watch” is more like a pilot for a TV series – along the lines of “Southland,” an underrated and compelling series that’s also about L.A. cops. Indeed, this film is open-ended enough to be exactly that.
This review continues on my website.