Screenwriter David Ayer is such a manly man’s man that it’s hard not to wonder if he’s over-compensating for something. Looking at Training Day, Harsh Times, Dark Blue and Street Kings, the Ayer formula is pretty obvious by now: Give a bunch of macho blow-hards some badges, billy-clubs and a license to beat the crap out of people while bellowing racial slurs and epic arias of profanity. There’s a self-conscious theatricality to Ayer’s bluster. The best films about violent men have always walked the line between critiquing violent behavior and getting off on it. Ayer tends to stick with the latter.
End of Watch is Ayer’s third directorial effort, and it unfortunately attempts to yoke his patented hard-boiled cop routine to that ever-wearying found-footage craze. The gimmick here is that beat cop Jake Gyllenhaal is taking a night class in documentary filmmaking, so he and partner Michael Pena wear buttonhole video cameras in their uniform pockets, and the whole movie jerks around in a hand-held, fish-eyed angle, low resolution blur. Trying to follow the action made me so nauseous, I had to take a break halfway through and go walk around the lobby for a few minutes just to keep from throwing up.
Gyllenhaal and Pena have a relaxed rapport behind the wheel of a squad car, even if the baby-faced former is never remotely credible as a steroidal knucklehead. For once, there’s an absence of police corruption; Ayer’s positively flooding with love for these cops, portrayed here as hard-working family men who talk a bit of smack and get rough sometimes, but don’t really mean anything by it. Indeed, at first it looks like End of Watch might be using the caught-on-video gimmick to convey the simple ins and outs of an LAPD patrolman’s daily grind.
No such luck, as plot convolutions quickly arrive. Stupid ones, too. Grandiose cartel baddies carry gold-plated AK-47s, conveniently videotaping their crimes for no other reason than that the movie needs us to see them. Absurdly improbable set-pieces and massively over-scaled shoot-outs ensue, with the jagged YouTube aesthetic only underlining the phoniness of all these Hollywood clichés.
And I’m still wondering who we’re supposed to assume was holding the camera during Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick’s sex scene.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely