David Ayer has written two hugely famous movies about the LAPD that are, to say the least, highly questionable in the realism department. The first one, The Fast and the Furious, is a playful, “high-octane” version of LAPD undercover work. It’s how the LAPD sees itself, not how they really are.
In his next screenplay, Training Day, David Ayer wrote a movie about how the world sees the LAPD. As a corrupt, dangerous, and constantly-attacked force against impossible resistance.
Both screenplays offer glimpses of an accurate LAPD experience, but they’re constantly interrupted by movie logic, formulaic screenplay conflicts, and gung-ho machismo that often feels like a bunch of dudes flexing their muscles at each other.
That being said, both of those movies are insanely popular and offer their audiences, if not fully accurate, at least passing glimpses of what life is like to be a police officer in an area so overrun with crime and violence.
End of Watch, written and directed by Ayer, does something really interesting with the public’s idea of a “cop movie.” With this film, Ayer is making both of his LAPD movies at the same time. There are big action scenes, giant set pieces, gunfights, explosions, car chases, and sincere moments of pride and pathos for men and women in the force who view themselves as heroes, and then there’s the “Found Footage” element, which sometimes spots embarrassing exchanges, hints of corruption within the department, rule-breaking, and a lot of dumb luck passed off as skill.
And while it all sounds a little too uneven, Ayer tests the audience by giving us full disclosure from the get-go. This is a found footage cop drama. That means we’re going to have a lot of shots that don’t make any sense within the context of the movie. Criminals will be filming themselves in arty close-ups while they shoot police officers, police officers will engage in gunfights while holding cameras, that kind of thing. But this is the nature of what Ayer is doing. It doesn’t make sense realistically, but it’s also a cop movie. A cop movie where nothing really makes sense, and everything that happens happens for the sake of the camera.
In one of the first scenes, after the concept of the “school project” is explained, Michael Pena (AKA one of the best actors of his generation) fights a suspect in his apartment for no other reason than bro-pride.
Ayer is teaching us how to watch the movie. First, this will be a documentary-style movie. Second, this is an ’80s buddy-cop movie that follows action movie logic.
It takes a little getting-used-to. We’re offered handheld, gritty images shot by the characters in situations often shot by helicopters and eighty-thousand dollar rigs on wheels.
However, after the first half hour or so, the film hits a very unique stride that no other cop movie has really done before. Because of the cinematography, and because Ayer cast genuinely great actors, we can take the film’s logic at face value and see the character development and real emotion as it plays out. We can believe it because the film believes it.
Whether you find it offensive or not that a movie that had a chance to give us an accurate, realistic depiction of LAPD life sort of gave us a weird, cynical little action movie, you’ll be surprised by how enjoyable it really is. And by how seriously it conveys the themes of sacrifice, honor, brotherhood, friendship, and pride.
It’s not about realism, or documenting true events. It’s about capturing a feeling and running with it.
It’s hard to believe this movie even got made, that these actors signed on to it, and that they were allowed to keep the ending you’ll see.
But I’m going to stress this. If you’re going to roll your eyes at the opening scene, where a cop takes off his belt and fights a man in his home, you’re missing the point. I accept that you can’t accept it. That it’s all too silly. But try to see the movie for what it is. A documentary about how we experience cop movies.