Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña. Written and directed by David Ayer. 18A. 109 min. Opens Sept. 21.
Can we declare a moratorium on gritty cinematic portraits of South Central Los Angeles? Of course, that would leave David Ayer with no career. Like Harsh Times and Training Day (which he wrote), End of Watch finds the writer-director examining just how thin the blue line gets on America’s west coast.
This time around, the twist is that Ayer tells the story (partly) through found footage, a gimmick introduced when wisenheimer patrolman Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) informs us that he’s going to record his experiences in the field with his partner, Mike (Michael Peña), for a night-school film assignment. The idea of a Blair Witch–style cop flick is relatively promising, but Ayer doesn’t develop his formal play in any meaningful way. Brian’s footage is thoughtlessly and unrewardingly intercut with more conventional digital video–shot perspectives on the pair’s adventures, which bring them into a blood feud with a group of vicious human traffickers—who, for all their lethal menace, are strangely inept when it comes to taking down two fairly oblivious police officers.
In Training Day, Ayer at least questioned the swaggering machismo of his badge-wearing characters, but here he seems happy to propagate clichés about honour and loyalty: Hilariously martial and hopelessly devoted to one another, Brian and Mike are like dumbass Klingons. And we’re supposed to love them, even though the performances are obnoxious. End of Watch tries to be lean and brutal as well as sentimental, but in trying to have it both ways, Ayer ends up with pretty much nothing at all.