Skip to main content

We're cops, everyone wants to kill us.


End of Watch
(2012)

David Ayer likes his cop movies. As a writer he gave us dubious cops in Dark Blue and Training Day, and as a director sometimes ludicrously cast ones in Street Kings. Probably his best work as writer and director to date is Harsh Times, which starred Christian Bale as an ex-soldier finding civilian life difficult. Which is a round about way of getting to End of Watch, nearly but not quite a very good movie.

Part of the problem lies with the central semi-conceit (semi, because the film never pretends to be a found footage “proper” piece), resulting in an uneasy mash-up of style and content. The fly-on-the-wall approach works for much of the time, but as great as the central duo’s (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) performances are (and they have an immensely winning rapport), I never less than aware that I’m watching Jake Gyllenhaal playing a cop (and giving his all to the part, I should add).

The aspiration towards gritty realism is frequently highly effective, but you’re aware of how the Ayers as write has constructed a more conventional narrative than the one that Ayers as director has created with its more dynamic elements of presentation.

So wee see the domestic lives of the officers, including Gyllenhaal’s romance with Anna Kendrick and Pena’s wife giving birth. And a succession of action set pieces that show the strong stuff the pair are made of, the most blatant of which is their rescue of three children from a burning building. Their subsequent conversation about how they don’t feel like heroes can’t remove the bad taste of over-manipulation as we see their awards for bravery, accompanied by stirring music. So too, the evil Mexican drug lord is shown plotting their demise through night vision goggles. But he clearly didn’t need much finding as he’s walking about wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “I am an evil Mexican drug lord!”

It’s also clearly a film extolling the nobility of law enforcement officials (perhaps Ayer felt it was time to redress the balance?) which at certain points feels like a bit of a stretch; these guys are cheeky and somewhat reckless, but they behave honourably in even the situations where you’d expect the rule book to be discarded (the prime example is their apprehension of a felon who has attempted to murder two fellow officers).

All that said, the fly-on-the-wall approach frequently creates an immediacy that ratchets up the tension, helped further by some inventive and mostly successful editing choices (on other occasions, not so successful; the gang’s AK-47s are unable to hit the fleeing cops despite their being easy targets). As we become aware that these officers are creating waves with the cartels a palpable sense of dread establishes itself, in a manner not so removed from the horror genre. And scenes in here wouldn’t look out of home in a fright flick; the discovery of shallow grave in a house filled with decapitated bodies, a call to a situation where an officer is found (alive) with a knife lodged in his head (through his eye).

Perhaps because a series like The Wire has created enough room to tell stories from a broader perspective, both the cop and the criminal, there’s a sense that perspective here is lopsided; the stylistic approach is hoodwinking us into thinking it’s presenting something accurate. Then we remember that the Latino gang are, like Gyllenhaal, videoing their activities. In contrast, they are presented throughout as strictly one-note caricatures.

Ayer’s created an intense, well-performed and frequently very funny film, but the verité style is essentially used to mask a script replete with all the standard Hollywood cop movie clichés and acts of artistic licence. 

***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

I will unheal the shit out of you!

Hotel Artemis  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hotel Artemis is all set up. It's solid set up, undoubtedly – a heightened, John Wick-esque criminal world by way of John Carpenter – but once it has set out its wares, it proceeds to pulls its punches. One's left more impressed by the dependable performances and Drew Pearce's solid footing as a (debut feature) director than his ability to develop a satisfying screenplay. 

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …