EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 20, 2012

'End of Watch': Gratuitous migraine of narrative voids

By Greg Vellante
Eagle-Tribune Movie Reviewer

---- — Jake Gyllenhaal is told to put his camera away many times in the insufferable “End of Watch.”

As LAPD Officer Brian Taylor, a quarter of the time Gyllenhaal is carrying around a camera and filming activities around his police station, or scoping out the sights of a crime scene.

He also wears a tiny recording device clipped to his uniform, as does his partner Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), so everything that could possibly be recorded can be—and in the ugliest way possible, too.

Throw in traffic cams, cell phones, and security tapes and “End of Watch” takes on the trifling, found footage aesthetic that so many movies are inexplicably trying to imitate these days.

While seeking a sense of realism, this choice only provides splitting headaches and distractions, especially when mysterious shaky cam shots come out of nowhere to document the events on screen. Who films the intimate love scene between Gyllenhaal and love interest in the film, played by Anna Kendrick? Who knows and even more so, who cares?

The movie never quite knows where it wants to be visually, swapping between some of the most hideous forms of big-screen cinematography and editing I have witnessed in some time — resulting with a pounding in my head that refused to subside for hours after.

It’s a movie where the best director of photography is the immobile camera that sits atop the dashboard of the police car. At least it knows how to sit still.

Everything else is just nauseating, and not just in terms of visual style. Writer/director David Ayer pens these LA cops with a robust helping of macho swagger and attempts to be critical of these morally flawed individuals while glamorizing them as heroes at the same time.

In some regards, I guess I would feel OK with these people protecting my city from crime because they get the job done, but how they do so is where these officers’ motives come into question. And by inviting us into the squad car for Taylor and Zavala’s sometimes humorous, frequently shocking, and especially misogynistic conversations, the fact that these individuals are ethically unlikable is clear.

I was never sure whether to root for the renegade cops abusing their power or the caricatured “gangstas” who mark the officers for death after their drug cartel is exposed. Even the aforementioned Anna Kendrick is unable to elevate this film to likable levels, her adorableness beaten down by the movie’s ugly core.

A gratuitous migraine of narrative voids, “End of Watch” is a film made even worse by capturing its story in a nightmarish lens. The visuals here are atrocious, and as a result they make a bad movie even worse. I’d imagine the film would have played better had it been filmed with any sense of composition or structure. Instead, we get a film so flimsily constructed that it’s barely even there.

End of Watch 1 1/2 out of 4 Stars