September 23, 2012 [End of Watch]

End of Watch is a "found footage" movie, the cop's media studies course project and the crooks' lookit-me videos combined with cop-car cameras all edited to give us a movie that gets as close as anything I've seen to the privacy of the everyday—even though that "everyday" is frequently punctuated by gunshots and fist-fights. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña seize this opportunity and make us believe not only that they're L.A. cops but that they've known each other for years. And their humor, anger, and love—for reckless action and each other—suffuse the movie with the sharp lines of bright sunlit conviction.

And so I barely noticed when the camera suddenly leaves the characters' hands and asserts the experience as a movie, a constructed thing that is not organic but scripted, not a path we follow along with them but a straight line to a hell that the director and writer, David Ayer, has delineated before, filled with melodrama and Hollywood-filtered fury—with Christian Bale in Harsh Times and Kurt Russell in Dark Blue and perhaps most famously with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day. As rough as these rides may have been, they were discernibly movies, and I could let them move along their course without getting involved.

But here Ayer draws back, lets the conversation between Brian and Mike be itself—as though I was in the back seat with them, or standing off to the side in those tense living rooms and alleyways. So when the conceit of the character-held consumer-end video camera ends, I barely noticed. Ayer simply also seemed to be there, and so it made sense he'd hold the camera for them as everything fell apart, when filming stuff was the last thing they were thinking of or needed.


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