After last weeks experience watch Expendables 2, Z was a little wary when End of Watch turned up this week. She'd not really heard of it, and my airy "I've heard good things about it" isn't always the guarantee of quality that you might expect. Mild scepticism is better than the other common reaction to opening the lovefilm envelope, which is "why is this on the list?", and a modern cop drama isn't high on the list of safe entertainment choices in our house, for all the box sets of The Wire and Justified that we own. Thankfully End of Watch is an interesting and entertaining movie that doesn't seem to have had the interest that it deserved.
I can't help but wonder if the film started life as a full-on "Found Footage" movie, a sub genre that everyone seems to have got tired of apart from movie makers themselves. It starts with a Police Cruiser-eye view of a shooting in South Central LA, before introducing us to the idea that one of its central two characters (Jake Gyllenhaal) has rigged him and his partner (Michael Pina) with cameras as part of a college course he is doing. A lot of the early footage also includes contrivances like gang members filming their drive-bys, but the film manages to avoid falling into the usual trap of the device - that of straining immersion due to the need for everything to be "really filmed" - by dropping it for a lot of shots, leaving much of film shot as verite documentary style, without an artificial justification.
The plot focuses around the main pair stumbling onto a serious drug-gang's operation, and taken on it's own it's actually pretty by-the-numbers. The two leads are a happily married family man and a younger, more ambitious character who we get to see fall in love. Much of the time you can be slightly ahead of the dramatic beats, which whilst they're not bad beats, they are ones that are tried and tested. But really, that's not what the film is all about.
What makes End of Watch work, and what makes it well worth seeking out, is the script and the performances, both of which are fantastic. The meat of the movie isn't the plot, its the two leads cruising around their patrol route, talking. As an insight into their lives, into the people that they are, its a mesmerising and compelling movie; and it elevates the rest of the film along with it. You like these cops, you care about them, and by extension their lives, loves and the risks that they face. They feel like real people; the films documentary style coming to their aid in creating that illusion.
So what you have in the end is a modern cop drama that is light on car chases, gun battles and explosions, but has a tight, tense, and genuinely emotional story. Its a film that feels real, a film that transcends a lot of its "on paper" limitations. I really liked it, and heartily recommend it. And even better, so did Z, so I get to chalk this one up as a "win"!