This isn’t academic writing, maybe not strictly film journalism, and there’s little trace of a style guide; it’s a conversation or random musings upon the stories that have us talking. They can arrive at any time, but when they do please join the conversation. They are FIW THOUGHTS.
Words: Brody Rossiter
LIGHTS, CAMERA, FREEZE ESSE
I’ve been intending to watch David Ayer’s End of Watch ever since I missed the picture’s cinematic release a couple of years ago. Fortunately Amazon Prime managed to accommodate my curiosities last night, and I was able to stream the immersive LA street cop drama from the comfort of my own home.
Moving forward in the same manner as a LAPD officer would when clearing a crack den room by room, let’s talk about cinematography. End of Watch utilises the rough and ready handheld camera style that has become synonymous with LA action/drama hybrids since Michael Mann’s Collateral utilised the technique so effectively back in 2004. The technique would later be repeated and mastered by TNT’s drama, Southland – which throughout its five season run was vastly underrated and consistently exhibited hard-hitting content of a very high standard. Those concerned about The O.C.’s Benjamin McKenzie taking on the role of Jim Gordon in Gotham need look no further than his brilliant performance as Officer Ben Sherman throughout that show’s tenure for reassurance.
End of Watch is clearly indebted to Southland and its pseudo realistic, faux documentary style of filmmaking. Ayer’s previous directorial descents onto LA’s pistola packing streets, Harsh Times and Street Kings, display a sleek style and temperament indebted to contemporary neo-noir, the type found in hardboiled crime fiction – which is perhaps why their transition from Ayer’s pen to cinema screens was largely unsuccessful. Those films were too visceral for their own good, emphasising violent set pieces and relentlessly oppressive moodiness over characterisation, but End of Watch succeeds due to the manner in which it retains its lawless “Big Evil” street thug threat, while pitting it against highly an endearing cop partnership in Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) – a heroic versus villainous juxtaposition upon which Southland built its intertwining narratives.
The strong bond between viewer and lead protagonists is accomplished, almost immediately, by various means. Firstly, naturalistic characters and dialogue; Gyllenhaal and Peña are seemingly allowed a good deal of leverage to improvise within the framework of police terminology and typical buddy-cop banter focusing on girlfriends, wives and kids – even the fluffed lines and botches remain and are swiftly incorporated into those light-hearted ride-alongs between calls to action. However the film could also be accused of overplaying those sentimental moments during the latter stages, in the process telegraphing that ‘this’ moment is ultimately the calm before the storm.
Secondly, that aforementioned camera style is not only highly immersive but an immediate means of allowing the audience to walk in the officers’ shoes – and those boots tread some incredibly dangerous, scorched ground. Utilising first person perspective is not a new technique, nor one exclusive to film, video games have done it for decades, and video games, specifically FPS (first-person shooters) and first-person horror games are another clear influence. Consistently incorporating elements of a medium that largely strives to be more cinematic into film often doesn’t work; it looks cheap and feels low-rent. However, End of Watch‘s limited use of these techniques and its slight riffs upon them (not locking the first person camera off, thus reducing the ‘on-rails’ appearance) work extraordinarily well, especially when considering how several sequences mirror those of a horror film.
“horror: An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust”. (OED)
Exchanging ghouls and ghosts for cartel torture rooms and sporadic yet unflinchingly realistic bouts of violence, proves especially jarring and hard to process – emotional issues which I’m sure a Los Angeles cop has to experience and suppress on a daily basis – especially when you’re experiencing them from the immediate perspective of the individual who comes across such harrowing sights.
finally once again specifically focusing upon that first-person, handheld, or in End of Watch‘s case, pinned to shirt pocket, camera it’s refreshing to see a scene not just utilise it for action sequences but also for framing LA’s colourful dusky vistas; the purples, pink, and orange sunsets interrupted by hard black outlines of skyscrapers and palms – again another example of a much-needed antithesis of light and shade.
Whether borrowing from similar film and television content or creating its own stylistic flourishes and multi-layered, surprisingly considered, narrative, End of Watch is a highly accomplished amalgamation of filmmaking techniques that results in a thrilling and poignant, obviously in a ‘Bros 4 life’ kind of way, but nevertheless poignant action thriller. Why I waited so long to watch it, I don’t know, but what I do know is in that two years since its release no action flick has made me invest so much of myself in its concept and characters.