Training Day screenwriter David Ayer’s Los Angeles–set police thriller begins with a smug fairy-tale invocation (“Once upon a time in South Central…”), then plunges us headlong into the stout-hearted, profanity-laden world of California patrol officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña). Taylor is conveniently taking a filmmaking class, hence all the on-the-street vérité and soulful direct addresses about a flatfoot’s forlorn life. But our hero isn’t the only one with a camera: There are some warring gangbangers out in the Southland who also like recording their exploits—or at least their f-bomb–laced tirades—and they don’t take it too kindly when the heat crosses them.
Ayer clearly thinks he’s making a grittily realistic ode to the long arm of the law, yet only the more intimate scenes ring true. End of Watch’s best moments are those between Gyllenhaal and Peña as they riff extensively while driving the beat—though their rapport feels like it comes more from offscreen personal regard than anything in the direction or screenplay. The first-person aesthetic, meanwhile, quickly becomes tiresome, and Ayer abandons the technique whenever he paints himself into a narrative corner. It almost becomes comical to count the number of “who’s holding the camera now?” reverse shots that the filmmaker haphazardly inserts to propel the story forward. Such visual ineptitude, like much else in this tediously cocky enterprise, is downright criminal.
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