Training Day is a cop drama that gets blown out of proportion when discussing its significance. Don’t get me wrong; it is a compelling story that allows us to see the dirty side of police work over the course of a single day. It’s also overrated. A lot of its success hinges on actor Denzel Washington who won an Oscar for his performance. Director Antoine Fuqua also got a lion’s share of the credit. And he’s been living off its success for a very long time, even going as far to try to recapture lighting in a bottle with the cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest. Missing from the platitudes, however, is writer David Ayer. Not including his screenplays for U-571 and The Fast and the Furious, Ayer has been churning out stellar cop dramas, as a writer, director, or both, for over a decade.
However, it wasn’t until last year’s End of Watch that he turned his attention away from dirty cops and painted cops as the good guys for a change. Dirty cops are sexy and cool thanks to Training Day and TV programs like The Shield, but it’s an interesting approach to follow the daily grind of two young L.A. patrol cops who obey the laws they have sworn to protect and uphold. End of Watch is a breath of fresh air to the genre even if Ayer chose to film it in a “found footage” style. At least the director has an excuse; one of the protagonists is taking a college film course and he decides to capture some of his work on patrol for a class project. The decision to go this route works quite well and we are also offered a mix of the POV footage with dashboard cameras and more traditional camera views and angles.
David Ayer frames his story with a buddy cop sensibility with a mix of a procedural thriller. We follow Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) as if we were taking part in a ridealong. Chasing down suspects, rescuing kids from a burning house and getting shot at is all in a day’s work for these two cops. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña is the film’s biggest asset. Gyllenhaal delivers his best performance since working opposite Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, and working with Peña allows them to clown and laugh but also be serious when called into action. They are as close as brothers, showing that their partnership extends beyond their assigned patrol shift. Their likeability makes us care and respect them.
By the time the central plot kicks in – it involves a major criminal ring that deals in drugs and human trafficking – we are fully invested in both characters. Even when Ayer goes from police drama to action thriller we are so caught up in the moment that it feels authentic, not a reach. Police work is dangerous. Ayer doesn’t try to gloss it up. It’s not like he’s trying to ape Michael Bay’s Bad Boys. His straightforward approach puts the characters in a Catch-22. No matter how many good deeds they perform, they inadvertently put themselves in more jeopardy.
End of Watch was one of 2012’s best surprises. Had I made a list of my top twenty favorite movies it would have occupied a spot. Having fully immersed himself in a cop’s world David Ayer has shown a dedication in portraying the dark side of the law. Thankfully, with End of Watch, Ayer gives the film a sense of realism exploring the brotherhood that exists between police officers. Far too often we tend to gravitate to rooting for the bad cop that breaks the law for his own reward. Here, Ayer acknowledges that wearing the shield is rewarding in and of itself.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has brought End of Watch to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the digital transfer is nicely detailed despite the film’s unique visual style. David Ayer shot End of Watch using a variety of digital cameras with lots of handheld jerky movements as a means to show an amateur quality. The biggest complaint would be the contrast, which tends to change from shot to shot. While it is well balanced it’s mostly average looking. Most probably won’t notice or care, and it doesn’t deter from the film’s enjoyment. Overall, the video presentation is faithful to David Ayer’s vision.
Where the film really excels is in the audio department. With a strong DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, viewers with a home theater setup will be treated to a front-heavy presentation with the surrounding speakers picking up random effects and the cacophony of the City of Angels. When the thrilling climax occurs each gun shot punches through the soundstage to great effect.
In terms of supplements the Blu-ray is light on extras. David Ayer goes solo for an audio commentary and he recounts the overall production, including the casting and decision to make the film with a found footage esthetic. There are five, two-minute promo featurettes that were originally made for the Internet. Cast and crew discuss the script, characters, production and the rigorous training required to play a patrol officer. The promos include behind-the-scenes footage throughout. Also included are seventeen deleted scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.
High-def exclusives/supplements include a DVD Copy, BD-Live Functionality, pocketBLU app, a D-Box Motion Code and an UltraViolet Digital Copy.
End of Watch is a great police procedural with a narrative focusing on the bond shared by police officers. David Ayer’s decision to shoot the feature in a “found footage” style takes some getting used to, but the technique makes the cop drama feel new, even if the story is familiar. Much of the film’s success is because it is chemistry-driven and supported by the strong performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. By the time we get to the film’s final moments we are so emotionally invested with their characters that want to see them make it home safe and sound. As for the Blu-ray, the video is strong and the audio is terrific. Extras are few and not that revealing. Still, this is great cop drama that should please fans of the genre and action junkies alike.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Open Road present End of Watch. Written and directed by David Ayer. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez. Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R. Released: January 22, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.