Sunday, September 23, 2012

End of Watch (2012) - Movie Review

End of Watch gives a different look into the lives of cops working in South Central Los Angeles.  Imagine an episode of COPS where you really get to know the officers and see the grisly side of their job.

An opening narration by Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) describes his thoughts on the job as you are watching a POV car chase shot by a dashboard cam.  It really puts you in the action and was one of the more interesting car chases I've seen in a while  Taylor is filming a documentary for a film class, which basically serves as an excuse for use of the many handheld camera shots used throughout the film.  It felt at first that this may be yet another found footage film with lots of shaky cam work (even the villains are seen using cameras), but as the movie progresses you get more standard camera angles.  It might be a little off putting if you're someone that notices that kind of thing, but it didn't detract from the strengths of the film. Having said that, I think the movie would have been even better if they had ditched all the handheld work and just shot it as a standard film.

Officer Taylor has been with his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) for years.  These guys are so close that they are essentially family.  Zavala is expecting his first child and Taylor is just starting a relationship with Janet (Anna Kendrick).  Seeing this adds to the depth of their characters and it's impossible to not care as you learn more about them.  What really sells this is the natural and authentic chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña.  Their banter is so funny that without even trying, it ends up being on of the funnier buddy cop movies that I've seen, and keep in mind that End of Watch isn't even a comedy.

When you see them at work, you get a gritty and realistic look at a day on the job.  Be warned that there are some extremely gruesome and shocking things in the movie.  Officers Taylor and Zavala aren't interested in giving out traffic tickets, something their superiors seem to be annoyed by.  They prefer to get in the middle of things and are pretty much super cops, even earning medals for their heroics.  However, they make a few busts that put them in the crosshairs of a Mexican cartel.  This sets up the explosive and emotional end of the film, which I won't spoil here. I will say that because you get so invested in Taylor and Zavala you just hope everything works out.

Jake Gyllenhaal has been doing great work for years, but I think this might be the most I've enjoyed him in a film.  Michael Peña has always been a favorite of mine, but this is easily the performance of his career.  Their performances carry the film, and I would not be surprised to see some nominations come their way come award season.  The movie is fleshed out with a great supporting cast of people like Natalie Martinez, America Ferrera, Frank Grillo and the always appealing Anna Kendrick.  Kendrick doesn't have a large role, but makes the most of her screen time.

Writer/director David Ayer, who's given us many other cop-driven films, with Training Day at the top of that list, gives a change of pace from his previous work.  Instead of a film about dirty or hugely flawed cops, we get a movie about two good cops and humanizes them in a way we don't normally get to see on the big screen.  Yes, cops are people, too.  They have family, friends, and actually want to do good in the world.  I'm so used to seeing the opposite of this that I kept waiting for one of these guys to do something questionable or immoral.  I'm glad the film never took us in those directions.  Another aspect of the film that really came through to me is how much the entire police force is one big family and how much they have each other's backs.  If I had an army like that at my back, I'd feel like I could take on all the evil in the world, too.

End of Watch is one of the better cop films in years, from a director that pretty much the current master on films about the boys-in-blue.  It's anchored by fantastic performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña and they elevate this to something more than just another cop film. It's also a tense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I strongly recommend checking this one out as soon as you can.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. While I loved Training Day, this movie sheds a different light, and perspective.