Thursday, September 20, 2012

End of Watch Review

To be completely honest, End of Watch wasn't even a blip on my radar until about two weeks ago when I finally saw the trailer and thought it looked fairly promising.  Walking into that theater I had no idea that I'd be leaving with a new favorite film of the year.  Yes folks, End of Watch is an incredible film that needs to be seen.

Directed by David Ayer (who wrote Training Day, among others), Watch is about LAPD partners Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal, or Joe Geronimo for any of you SNL fans out there) and Mike (Michael Peña) who become minor heroes for a shootout that happens quite early in the film.  The narrative structure is something akin to The Hurt Locker; we're treated to several eventful patrols over a course of many months, with character-developing-connective-tissue in between.  Now, I'm a huge fan of The Hurt Locker, but for me End of Watch does what its trying to do better.  While both films feature (in)tense patrols/missions that kept me on the edge of my seat (and stressed me out quite a bit), the aforementioned connective tissue is handled better in Watch.  We slowly get to know these guys and just how close they are, to the point where Mike tells Brian that he'd take care of his wife if anything happened to him.  Their relationship and dialogue just feel real and incredibly natural.  The weight of the film rests on their shoulders and they pull it off with aplomb.

Every performance in the film just felt right.  It was as if I was watching an episode of  Cops or real footage from real police officers.  Anna Kendrick plays a relatively small but important role as Brian's girlfriend.  While she doesn't have much screen time, and therefore, little dialogue, she pulls off her character incredibly well and increases the stakes for Brian that much more.  Natalie Martinez plays Mike's wife, Gabby, and does quite a fantastic job as well.  Her character just feels real and plays off Mike with ease. There are myriad tertiary characters that I could mention but that would just take too long.  From the police chief, to other officers, to thugs and and gang-bangers that our protagonists encounter over the course of the film, virtually every character is grounded and very realistic.

The style in which Watch is shot is essentially found-footage.  Brian has a camcorder with him during most of the film and documents much of what is going on (for a film class he's taking).  He outfits himself and Mike with small cameras that clip on their uniforms.  Much of the film is from these perspectives.  What I enjoyed the most is that the shots and scenes that weren't from one the perspective of one of those three cameras was still shot as if it was found-footage.  There are plenty of times where there is obviously no one standing there holding a camera, filming unfolding events, but the cinematography keeps the trend going.  And I absolutely loved it.  Presenting the film in such a manner immersed me deeply into their experiences and what they encountered on the streets of L.A.  On a technical level, it would have been quite jarring to go from a handheld shot to a clean, steady traditional shot.  By keeping everything on the same level, even while breaking the edict that there has to be a character in the film holding a camera, Ayer is able to bring us into the front seat with Brian and Mike and ramp up the intensity that much more.

Usually here is where I bring up issues I had with the film or minor complaints, and frankly, I don't have any.  I felt the pacing was pitch perfect, the narrative arcs of the Brian and Mike were very natural and made me care about them deeply, the dialogue is great, and the actual narrative itself is incredibly engaging and just plain fantastic.  I felt fully immersed in the seedy underbelly of L.A. from the first moments; the film opens with an awesome car chase that gives you just a small taste of what is to come.  As the action ramps up so do the consequences, to the point where I just didn't want these guys to go on patrol because I knew bad things would eventually happen to them.  Few films have me so deeply invested in their protagonists as Watch did.

I cannot honestly believe how much I enjoyed End of Watch.  Simply put, its one of the best films of the year, and now my personal favorite.  Despite being totally and completely stressed out beyond belief, I cannot wait to see this film again.  And again and again.  I just can't recommend it highly enough.

End of Watch is a fantastic drama/thriller that must be seen.

The Bearded Bullet.

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