David Ayer, the unofficial bard of the L.A.P.D, typically traffics in the dirty underside of law enforcement.
Films like Training Day, Dark Blue and Street Kings, show cops handcuffing the rules to get their man - or help themselves in some dastardly way.
With End of Watch, Ayer abandons his crooked cop template, and in doing so delivers his most complete film to date.
The film, available this week on Blu-ray and DVD, uses the already tired "found footage" gimmick to give its story juice, but the palpable chemistry between the leads is electric as if.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as Brian and Mike, two cops cleaning up the filthy streets of South Central Los Angeles. It's a thankless gig, but they enjoy each other's company so much the soulless work doesn't leave a mark. Mike is a family man with a young child, and Brian may have just met the girl of his dreams (Anna Kendrick).
That more or less captures what Watch has to offer as far as a plot is concerned, at least for a good, long while. We watch the cops go about their business, often from the perspective of cameras either carried by the officers or strapped to their vehicle. We're told Brian is using the footage for a college project, but it's a flimsy excuse to incorporate Hollywood's favorite new tool into a genre product.
Ayer, serving as both writer and director, eventually settles on a sizable threat starting south of the border, pitting our heroes against an underworld more lethal than they can imagine.
Gyllenhaal and Pena are so good, and so believable as blue-collar heroes, that the slowly emerging threat seems like an afterthought. Their banter is priceless, delivered with an ease that smooths over the shaky camera work and unfortunate angles that typify found footage features. Even Kendrick, stuck with a "cop's girlfriend" role that might smother most actresses, gives her character a vibrancy that demands we consider her even when she's off screen.
End of Watch understands it wouldn't be right to turn its cops into superheroes, nor would it do their off-screen partners justice to trot out a boilerplate final act. Instead, End of Watch is raw through its final seconds, a sign Ayer isn't simply fascinated by the flawed men and women who protect and serve in the City of Angels. He wants to say, "thank you" to them at long last.
The Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes as well as five featurettes which serve as de-facto commercials for the product playing in your home video device. They still deliver snippets of tasty information, like how Ayer used footage taken from real police officers to inspire the story.