[Review] – End Of Watch

6 Oct

Title: End of Watch
Year: 2012
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, America Ferrera, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use
Runtime: 109 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 70

If I’m going to be totally honest I didn’t even know about End of Watch until some months ago when the trailer was released and when I posted the trailer here I said “not really expecting this one to be any good, but we’ll have to see”. And I really didn’t, this was a film that used the POV style of filmmaking on a story about cops, written and directed by David Ayer who, sure, had written Training Day, but who’s directing output had consisted of Harsh Times and Street Kings which were both super formulaic cop movies. So yeah, I thought this was a guy who knew his turf with this genre and would provide a predictable, at best slightly better-than-average movie.

Boy was I wrong. And I mean dead wrong. End of Watch, which Mr. Ayer wrote in just six days, is one of the strongest film of the year and, perhaps most importantly, the single best cop movie I’ve seen in a really, really long time. I really have no words to describe how much this film worked for me, it never once fell into the cheap traps this worn-out genre has; it used the whole found-footage, handheld camera POV style to its fullest advantage; it is just bursting with vitality and it has two tremendously charming and engaging performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.

Those two actors are amazing to behold in this film, they really are, and if you’ve seen interviews with the two promoting this film then you’ll know they have a little bromance kind of going on after hanging out while making this film. That’s probably because they hung out for five months preparing for their roles here, which included going on 12-hour ride-alongs up to three times a week with L.A. law enforcement agencies. They are amazing, the script is really invested in making them really fleshed-out characters and these performances just really back that sentiment up, seriously stunning stuff here.

Mr. Gyllenhaal and Mr. Peña play officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, respectively, two young L.A.P.D. partners who are also close friends. The POV gimmick kicks in as we find out that Taylor is doing this documentary project for a film class he’s taking and attaches cameras to their uniforms and carries around a camcorder as they go through their duty. We follow them through funny times, we get to learn about their personal lives, to see the horrible stuff they see, how hard the job actually is, how they cope with it all and how they stumble into money and firearms that put them squarely on the sights of a dangerous cartel.

The whole movie really does make you feel like you’re right there, riding along in the squad car and it all just feels so raw, so authentic in how it holds no punches when showing the gruesome violence and the sense of humor these guys develop on the job. You feel your nerves kind of tingling because of that sense of gritty realism, like you’re given a couple of hours in a job that could get you killed. This film is about very messy and very human reality that comes with the job, grounded by a pair of wonderful performances that really carry the great amount of heart this film has and enable you to really connect to it.

Mr. Gyllenhaal I’ve always believed to be a really good actor, and a really charming one at that as can be evidenced by anyone who’s seen interviews with him. His turn here as Brian Taylor is no doubt among the very best performances he’s given in his career, perhaps the best since Brokeback Mountain. He’s kind of showing us maybe a new direction for him as an actor and just has this presence that keeps us super connected to him and to the story as well as gets us to buy into his relationship with Zavala.

Michael Peña is obviously the other piece of that puzzle, and like I said the chemistry between the two is tremendous to watch, and this may also be one of the best performances he’s ever given, if not the best. He’s played a role like this many times before, but never one so fully-realized as Zavala here, the level-headed cop in his squad car. As we see what their day-to-day consists of we see them undertaking stuff on a daily basis that people wouldn’t be able to take twenty minutes of, and we believe the stakes and the intensity of that drama because we first came to believe their performances as real people.

The rest of the cast, by the way, is also full of good actors doing very solid work, among them Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera and, especially, Anna Kendrick. Ms. Kendrick, who regular readers may know I’m a huge fan of, is Janet, Brian’s girlfriend, and even though both she and Ms. Martinez, who plays Zavala’s wife, are indeed the secondary female figures you’re used to in these films, their performances, especially Ms. Kendrick’s, make them better. Ms. Kendrick was kind of cast against type here and her domestic interactions with Brian just add so much depth and new different angles to both these characters that I was just thoroughly impressed with, as I’m wont to do when I see many of her performances.

Cop movies are just this vital part of the American cinema landscape, really, especially those set in Los Angeles, and until you see End of Watch you probably won’t realize just how few really great ones have come out in recent years; this is probably among the Top 5 cop movies of this new millennium. It’s just heart-pounding action, brilliantly made and expertly acted. You could obviously get into whatever political or social message you want to read out of this, as an ode to the L.A.P.D. or as a statement on heroism or a social message about how everyone in the 21st century videotapes everything. All of it worthy of discussion, for now let it suffice to know that this is a thoroughly great film you should really seek out.

Grade: A-

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