End of Watch (2012) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA rated: R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language, sexual references, and some drug use
Running time: 109 min.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, David Harbour, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Maurice Compte, Yahira 'Flakiss' Garcia, Cle Sloan, Jaime FitzSimmons
Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: David Ayer
Review published November 21, 2012
Written and directed by David Ayer (Street Kings, SWAT), the filmmaker with a special interest in the workings of the Los Angeles PD, the city where he was raised, in End of Watch, he has directed his most realistic portrayal of both the doldrums and the danger of police work.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code, Prince of Persia) stars as ex-Marine-turned-cop Brian Taylor, LAPD officer on the South LA beat with his partner (and good friend) Mike Zavala (Pena, Battle Los Angeles). It's not a bad living, as they make their busts, crack jokes and play pranks in between, and keep themselves entertained.in their latest assignments, Brian also is finally realizing it may be time to get serious in his relationships when he meets Judith (Kendrick, What to Expect When You're Expecting), who just could be Ms. Right, if only he can actually play his cards right with this one. However, there's more than the usual gangbangers and drug dealers to knock around these days, as the neighborhood seems to be changing with a new elements, as really nasty drug dealers enter the scene and people end up missing and dead in gruesome ways.
You won't learn much new about police work by watching End of Watch, but it may open your eyes as to how difficult and sometimes scary a job in the police department can be, especially in dealing with a particularly nasty strain of criminals who aren't afraid of authority, and actually would rather go all out in eliminating the threat as an example in dominating a community. Routine searches reveal gruesome and quite evil consequences, as the cops soon discover that there aren't just bad guys in the world, there is something that is out and out evil, and we can see the fear in their eyes as the communities they patrol begin to be tainted by their exposure to this new, unpredictable, horrifying element.
Another great asset is the natural camaraderie that exists between Brian and Mike, superbly captured by Gyllenhaal and Pena, who seem like men who've known each other for years. Even the interplay between minor characters feels spot on, and it helps bolster the comedy when people you come to know and like rip on each other, much as it would when watching your own friends and family do the same. Menacing are the 'bad guys' of the piece, most of them being gangbangers, though there seems to be a growing chasm between the old school gangsters, who are thugs out to make a quick buck, and a new type of gangster, who commit heinous, terrorist acts in order to bring entire communities to their knees.
The one distraction in the film is in the contrivance of filing the events semi-documentary style through the camera of Brian, who seems to be chronicling his job for an audience that is presumably for a project in college. Also, there is a camera among the members one of the local street gangs documenting their activities as well. Despite that angle, about 90% of the shots of the movie could not possibly come from those cameras, which renders any attempt at true realism moot, though the digital camera work and faux-amateur style of the rest of the film does make for an authentic feel. If Ayer were trying to make the film seem like a 'found footage' mockumentary or something pieced together and put on YouTube, he has failed, but luckily, the illusion of this is broken early enough that we just enjoy the film for the dramatic thriller that it is and learn to ignore all of the attempts to adhere to the original intent.
In the end, what the film is ultimately about is the brotherhood that exists for the men and women in blue, who are like a sort of dysfunctional family of their own, alone against the cruel, scary, and unforgiving world that they can only joke about in their off time in order to cope during the truly frightening arrests and walk-throughs of seemingly deserted houses in the inner city. The men strive for a sense of normalcy that never quite settles in, as they start families knowing that they are just a gunshot away from having it all taken away at nearly any moment. There are better cop films that have been made, but none that I can recall that come close to exposing just how harrowing an experience it is to be a cop, walking through a home owned by someone with bigger and better artillery, with only your brother in blue behind you for protection. It's no horror movie, but in terms of nail-biting suspense of the purely visceral, it's as horrific as they come these days.
©2012 Vince Leo