Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
End of Watch
Release Date(s)2012 (January 22, 2013)
Studio(s)Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Cop dramas these days don’t warrant much of a reaction from me. It’s when they try to do something that hasn’t been completely beaten over the head as a cliché where I stand up and take some notice. End of Watch may have some of those clichés in it, and some others to boot, but it’s not about the style so much as it is the characters.
For me, most films told a certain way should rely on their characters to carry it along, and have some development for them along the way. End of Watch manages to accomplish that in a very simple way: by spending some time with them as characters and not getting into a deep or complicated plot of any kind. We learn a lot about them through the context of what they do, how they talk to each other, how they treat other people, etc. Never once are we shown a scene where they heroically take down a pimp, a drug lord or a corrupt policeman. It’s not about the story so much as it is about these two guys just doing what they do. They have personal lives, but their personal and professional lives meld together, like they would in any career-driven job, especially in this line of work. When they’re out on patrol, you get down and dirty with them and follow them into some pretty tense situations, but it’s not like you’re cheering for them to be bad-ass cops or anything. You just want them to do well and survive.
Going into this film, I didn’t really know much about it, outside of the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal is in it and that David Ayer is the director. I hadn’t seen any of the latter’s work and I enjoyed Training Day (for which he was only the writer), but I gave it a shot anyway. Right off the bat, I was turned off by the style, which is mostly handheld or digital cameras. It bothered me for a couple of reasons. A, because it’s definitely a cliché for characters to be doing all of the filming in movies these days, and B, because there’s a lapse in logic here to me. These guys wouldn’t be carrying cameras around all the time, and even if they did, the footage wouldn’t come out looking this good. In their line of work, people that film this kind of stuff are the people who are following them around on patrol, or the footage is sourced from the camera in their police cruiser (an angle that IS made use of in the film). Their superiors probably wouldn’t be too happy with them picking up cameras and recording everything about their everyday lives either. That sounds like some sort of breach of security or trust to me, or even an insurance problem for the department itself. The truth of the matter though is that despite it all, the multiple handheld and digital cameras from all of these different angles freshens the genre up a bit, and because of that, it doesn’t feel like something you’ve seen over and over again (even though you have).
Ultimately though, this isn’t about the visuals anyway, and the longer the film goes on, the more you forget about it. It serves its purpose but it isn’t meant to wow you with great photography or expert camera work. You become invested in the characters, and that’s what saves this from becoming a typical cop drama and being more of a human-based drama. Even the criminals that these guys come into contact with aren’t completely one-dimensional. Yeah they can be pretty awful people, but a lot of them second-guess themselves. Not so much in their words, but in their performances. In other words, you meet a wide range of people with a wide range of emotions and approaches to situations. When we meet Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, he’s more or less a street-smart guy and seems to feel like there’s a much deeper meaning to his work, despite being kind of reckless and rookie-ish. It sort of goes against his partner (Michael Pena), who’s married and looks at things in a much more self-fulfilling sort of way. They never come to a complete clash of the minds or methods on-screen, but there’s some tension in there.
The film also doesn’t lead to a conclusion that’s by the numbers either. I’m not going to spoil it, but trust me when I say that you won’t see it coming, and even if you do, you won’t feel good about it afterwards. End of Watch is the type of movie that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, while at the same time making you feel a lot of sympathy for its characters. You go through all of the motions with these two cops as they start out as, more or less, hot-headed rookies. It’s also generally about the lives of the people who do this job for a living in real life. The tension while we follow them around is at times wound tighter than a Swiss watch, all because we’ve grown to care about them, even during their not-so-proud moments. Great performances, direction and writing make End of Watch a no-brainer. Not just for genre fans, but also people with a taste for cop dramas. It’s better than that, but that’s how it appears on the surface.
The Blu-ray transfer for the film was apparently overseen and approved by the director and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov. That said, the presentation won’t be seen as sheer perfection, especially to videophiles. The intention of the film appears to have been to give it an amateurish look, so it uses a variety of different cameras, contrasts and angles to accomplish that. So from scene to scene, you’ll notice that blacks can appear crushed, but in the very next scene, dark and inky. Skin tones look normal for the most part, and the color palette doesn’t appear to have multiple looks to it, so that’s good news. A lot of these things won’t stand out that much anyway because of the nature of the film. Unless you’re freeze-framing it, or paying extremely close attention, the video presentation’s flaws won’t matter much. There’s also likely to have been some digital enhancement to make the footage look good on the format, and there are tell-tale signs of that, but given the sources and the intention, it’s not much to gripe about. So it’s not a perfectly smooth and problem-free presentation, but it’s not terrible either. It’s faithful to the filmmakers’ intentions and that’s good enough for me.
The soundtrack is also nothing to get worked up about. Featuring an English 5.1 DTS-HD track, it doesn’t do a whole lot to really warrant its use. It actually would have worked better as a 2.0 soundtrack, especially since the intention seems to have been to make it look and sound like people other than filmmakers made it, but I digress. This is a more front-heavy presentation than you would expect. There’s a lot of dialogue, but it’s crisp and clear and perfectly audible. The only time it isn’t audible is during a few choice moments when the sound of gunfire overpowers it, but that’s for effect. There’s some ambience in the rear speakers when it comes to the sound of the city itself, as well as thumping LFE (mostly from the film’s musical selections), but I wouldn’t call it a perfect surround presentation. Again, like the video presentation, it’s not terrible. Everything comes off well and despite the lack of multi-channel activity, it’s as immersive as it can be. Like I said before, sticking with only two speakers would have been enough, but this is passable without being irritating. A good soundtrack, but not a great one. There are also some subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French for those who might need them.
The extras you get with this release are pretty decent, but not incredibly in-depth. First up is an audio commentary with director David Ayer, 17 deleted scenes, 5 two-minute featurettes (Fate With a Badge, In the Streets, Women on Watch, Watch Your Six, Honors), a D-Box Motion Code option, a pocket BLU app, BD-Live and several previews that open the disc. On the DVD you get the same extras and previews (minus the BD tech), audio in English 5.1 Dolby Digital and subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French. There’s also an insert with an Ultraviolet Digital Copy code. So it’s not totally in-depth, but it does give you a peek, albeit briefly, behind the curtain on the making of the film.
All in all, this a pretty good release for End of Watch on Blu-ray. It probably won’t be in your top tier of titles to pick up, but if you do, you won’t be all that disappointed with it. Regardless, you’ll still get a good solid movie out of the deal, so for that alone, it’s very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons