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Zettel Film Reviews » End Of Watch – David Ayer: Dumb Derring Duo lose a war.

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End Of Watch – David Ayer: Dumb Derring Duo lose a war.

 

Armalite Action Man

 

 

End Of Watch  – David Ayer

End of Watch is David Ayer’s much praised follow-up to his equally critically approved Training Day. It is action-packed, often tensely exciting, rattles along at a furious pace and looks like being a massive box-office hit. It is also in my view a thoroughly bad movie – aesthetically and morally.

The lead characters, LAPD beat cops Bryan Taylor and Mike Zavala are so convincingly played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena you almost believe some of the meretricious hype with which this cynically packaged product is being promoted. An unattributed source in the real LAPD reportedly observed “at last someone got it right.” The ‘it’ got ‘right’ one assumes means this is supposedly a truthful portrayal of what it is to police the no-go ethnic ghettoes of Los Angeles.

Yet look behind the uber-cool, Raybanned ‘Bro’ and ‘Dude’ sheen of Bryan and Mike and there is no one there. Just a bunch of brutish attitudes, expressed with crude, brutish relish in crude, brutish language. This isn’t dialogue: it’s 2nd rate ‘white’ Rap without the saving grace of a compelling rhythm. Dude and Bro’s attitudes are arrogantly racist, sexist, adolescent – especially about sex; and expressed in a slick cliché-ridden Washingtonian (Denzel that is) argot that is as irritatingly repetitive as it is impoverished. Considered as two professional cops in a seriously dangerous operational environment they are also just plain stupid. Justification later.

God help LAPD if these two are authentically representative of dedicated, committed law enforcement officers in the City of Angels – even in the apparently gun-soaked, armalite-littered streets of what here looks like a war-torn suburb of Mexico City; better armed than Kabul and marginally more dangerous than Gaza.

The inauthenticity of the characters emerges from the disconnect between the intelligence of the actors, which they can’t hide; and the dumb words they are given to say and sheer banality of the thoughts and feelings their impoverished language is supposed to express. That is true even ignoring the fact that to convey a sense of gritty ‘realism’ every sentence is punctuated by ‘Bro’, ‘Dude’ and all conceivable adjectival and adverbial forms of f*ck” and its synonyms.

Just when you think this studied, stylised inarticulacy can’t be beaten, we get to hear the vaguely Latino, Mexican, South Americany army of contract killers discuss their ‘plan’ to eliminate Bro and Dude. A priceless exercise in communication and the screenwriter’s art, it goes very much like this:

“F*ck you. We gotta f*cking get these f*cking f*ckers or we’re f*cked. I’m f*cking not f*cking kidding, the f*cking boss will f*ck us if we don’t f*cking nail those f*ckers: and I mean to-f*cking-day.” This is an abbreviated version of what we perhaps should call f*ckwit-speak. More stars than the Milky Way and much less illuminating.

Bryan and Mike, streetwise and street cool enthusiastically sniff out wrongdoing and wrong-doers from their patrol car. They are successful in their freewheeling, gut instinct policing style which seems to have nothing to do with established procedures or being part of a systematic, operationally disciplined policing programme. Following these instincts they fortuitously uncover and recover a big cash and drugs haul while pursuing more minor infringements. The kudos this brings them puts them onto the radar of the Mexican drugs cartels whose cash and product they have confiscated. They are warned by one of their contacts in what I guess Ayer would call the ‘hood’ that there is a contract out on them.

Our heroes, forewarned, but unlike their would-be assassins, not four-armed; all the f*ckwit gang have to do is run a red light and draw our derring duo gleefully into the inevitable ‘look-out-here-we-come car chase – good for movie action; bad for sensible operational practice. When their fugitives, at least 4 in number, suddenly screech to a halt and disappear into a building in a dodgy part of town what do you think they do? Smell a rat? Call for back-up and wait? Split up and approach cautiously from different sides to try to assess the threat, judge the risks? Nah: that’s for wimps; they rush straight into the building in hot pursuit of a gang who outnumber them 2 to 1 even before they get inside the building. When they can’t immediately find their quarry they of course rush up and down blind corridors snatching glances into any rooms on the way. It is of course when they are trapped in the apartment of a mother and child that the brilliant tactical supremacy of their would-be assassins pays off with a fusillade from half a dozen heavy duty automatic weapons which chews up windows, furniture and any other solid object offering them inadequate cover.

“Oopsadaisy – it’s a trap! Now we’d better call for back-up.” You don’t say! So f*uckwit cops leg it – chased by the f*ckwit gang still loosing off enough ordnance to fill a couple of pick-up trucks. I won’t spoil this ‘paint-by-numbers’ apology for a narrative but suffice to say, true to the tradition of sketchily devised and lazily rounded off Hollywood plots, we are then invited to emote tearfully and gratuitously in scenes for which neither the dramatic context nor empathy with the characters has been established. It beggars belief that intelligent, discriminating critics are willing to buy into this stuff just because it is well acted, shot and edited.

The women in End of Watch are of course token WAGs: brain-cell challenged, their sole aspiration apparently to dutifully satisfy our heroes’ inalienable masculine right in their off-duty moments to as many inventive sexual techniques as such gun-totin’ dudes manifestly deserve and then embarrassingly (to us as well) share all the possibilities with each other on a night out.

Towards the end of the 70s after the 50s and 60s dominance of the Western genre in movies and TV had given way to slick, formulaic cop shows like Kojak and Starsky and Hutch, writer/Producer Steven Bochco under the MTM (Mary Tyler Moore) production banner helped to create a gritty, realistic Cop show of a precinct in a tough neighbourhood of a city modelled on Chicago. Very much an ensemble piece with a diverse group of cops at all levels, working in a multi-ethnic team in a deprived and challenging inner city area, the series went on for 7 years to 147 episodes, 98 Emmys and justified acclaim.

Hill Street Blues was crammed with dozens of carefully written, well-established characters. The wives and girl friends of the cops had their own brain cells and their own aspirations in life. The cops, whether as Captain or beat cop had lives and interests outside of policing often threatened or compromised by their commitment to the idea that policing could be an honourable pursuit; worthy of respect; socially valuable. Even the criminal fraternity they policed was ethnically diverse, full of complicated, interesting people, many struggling to keep their families and their values intact in a social setting that put them under constant threat.

It is hard to believe that Ayer actually expects us to take End of Watch and its lazily conceived stereotypes, racial and social, as authentic or real. He is so committed to investing a tough job in an appalling social setting with a slick Hollywood sheen of hip street-cred and unremittingly pointless violence that it beggars belief that any decent man or woman would ever want to be a cop. Bryan and Michael and their equally thick-headed, unappetising colleagues aren’t fighting crime or trying to make life more bearable for decent law-abiding citizens trapped in a criminal environment. In their instinct for violence and ill-concealed passion for guns and the power they represent, this LAPD and these LAPD cops have, deep down more in common with the criminals they are at war with than the people on whose behalf they are supposed to be fighting.

Why in God’s name any half way intelligent, committed member of the actual Los Angeles Police Department would willingly identify with this dumb duo as written, is beyond me. But then I rather think it is Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, Hollywood stars and the vicarious celebrity of End Of Watch that excites them. This curious phenomenon, absolutely American in character, rests on a deep-seated attachment to myth over reality. The iconic object that best expresses this profoundly disturbing attachment is the gun: and the indiscriminate power it represents. A power equally available not only to police and criminals alike but to anyone with the money to buy.

That’s why End of Watch, for all its (eventually irritating) cinema verite arty pretense at authenticity isn’t about Law enforcement, Policing, at all; it is about war, a struggle for dominance mediated not by legality and due process – but by the power of the gun and individual will.

Take End of Watch seriously as we are invited to do by the hype and promotion – and it sucks. Treat it as a violent, pacy, amoral Hollywood action movie with no pretense to authenticity, then if that’s your bag it’s sort of ok; but by no means as exciting as many other examples of a legitimate and honestly unpretentious genre – like say the Die Hard franchise. The rest is smoke and mirrors hype.

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