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End of Watch
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by Jay Seaver

"A love letter to the police, but one with a whole heart poured into it."
5 stars

At the start, the main character of "End of Watch" expresses a very black-and-white opinion of the police and their role in society, and the way that the filmmakers acknowledge law enforcement officers toward the end of the credit roll certainly suggests that they share this view of cops as heroes. And yet, it never feels dishonest or like propaganda, but plays as a strong character piece that makes its simplicity a strength.

The uniformed police officer who makes the speech at the start is Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ex-marine whose ambition has him taking a filmmaking class as a humanities elective as he studies pre-law during his off-hours. It also has him and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) very aggressive on patrol, pushing into situations that other officers would avoid or engage with more caution. But while Zavala and his wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) await the birth of their first child and Taylor starts to get serious with his new girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick), their actions start to attract attention of malefactors well above local gangster "Big Evil" (Maurice Compte).

Though there's no question that Taylor is the film's viewpoint character - early on, the whole thing is implied to be his classroom project, and while there are scenes without him, they are dropped in from elsewhere rather than the picture leaving him behind - it's impressive how well-defined the other characters are with just a few relatively broad strokes. Take America Ferrera and Cody Horn, for instance, as the team that frequently serves as their backup; we get how much a pair of female partners maybe has to act tougher than the men to thrive in this job. Or David Harbour as a cop turned defensive and cynical (but also able to make a surprising second side to his character completely believable later on). Or Frank Grillo as their sergeant, who can officially push toward the straight-and-narrow while unofficially seeming to encourage the sorts of excess that give cops a bad name. Or Cle Sloan as a prideful banger, or Diamonique as a vicious but cunning lady gangster, or... Well, it's a strong, deep ensemble where almost every character feels like a complete creation, even if he or she only appears for a couple of minutes. Nobody is slacking off.

This goes double true of Michael Peña, who gives the sort of performance that should make people sit up and take notice as Mike "Z" Zavala. He and Jake Gyllenhaal exchange foul-mouthed banter that could easily be just lazy white-cop/latino-cop filler, but there's such a genuine feeling of each knowing exactly how far he can push to make the other laugh rather than bristle that when the usual lines about partners being like family come about, it's something the audience already believes rather than a claim that the movie will later have to prove. Gyllenhaal is pretty good too - he can slip moments in that justify Z calling Taylor the smartest guy he knows while still coming off as kind of immature and reckless - but it's Peña who builds a character out of what he tells his partner without it ever seeming like simple exposition.

Writer/director David Ayer takes great pains early on to establish first-person video sources, whether they be Taylor's camcorder, a set of miniature cameras attached to his and Zavala's uniforms, or the LAPD's standard windshield cam, as if End of Watch is going to be presented as a documentary assembly. However, he also soon decides not to be ruled by this device, so it's not long before we're seeing angles that couldn't possibly come from something the characters brought with them. Even then, though, he and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov favor tight, hand-held shooting while Ayer and editor Dody Dorn cut more to compact time than to present multiple angles; even when we're not getting our information straight from the horse's mouth, we're right in the room, observing from inside.

And that's pretty great when Ayer decides to throw the audience into the middle of dangerous situations with the cops. There are some fantastic action sequences in this movie, made more tense by how Ayer and company don't elect to make them slick and bigger than life, but instead make every wide turn a vehicle takes during a car chase seem dangerous and emphasize how guns shouldn't be taken for granted, because they can come out of nowhere and end a life life instantly. The finale is a set-piece that the likes of The Raid and Dredd stretch into a whole movie, but whose essence comes through crystal-clear here.

There are admittedly some less-strong points in the script and execution; we're told Brian and Janet are smart, but we don't necessarily see it directly as much as we could, and the condescending, uncooperative Fed seems awfully uninspired. On the other hand, the way Ayer uses this trope seems genuine; Kevin Vance's character feels less like the plot-necessitated roadblock such characters can be and more like a guy with his own story. Ayer is also unusually willing to let the audience judge the characters' actions for itself - Taylor and Zavala (among others) push hard at the lines police are not technically supposed to cross, and even when they're successful because of it, there's room for the audience to feel uncomfortable about how they sometimes enjoy power and intimidation more than is savory.

It's not as balanced as it could be,perhaps, but Ayer chose to focus on guys who do good in an intense job, and he hits that target well. "End of Watch" is put together out of things the audience has seen in a million other cop movies, but pays such close attention to every piece that the whole, once put together, is very high quality indeed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23535&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/24/12 01:15:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/28/17 morris campbell exciting affecting cop movie 4 stars
8/25/14 Jeff WIlder One of the better cop films. Miles ahead of overrated "Colors" 5 stars
3/16/13 Jake Gyllanhall Of course it was good, I mean it's my film 5 stars
3/01/13 mr.mike It was good. Damn good. 4 stars
2/03/13 action movie fan tough violent overly profane but thrilling big screen adam 12 actioner 5 stars
12/11/12 Jonathan Gray this movie looks like a cop movie 3 stars
10/13/12 Ravenmad Awesome, gritty, raw, crazy scary (cartel party), big heart. 5 stars
10/10/12 Pat Noon A hard hitting and grimy, gritty look at the life of a cop in South Central LA 4 stars
10/09/12 Daniel Scott Jake Gyllanhaal rocks in this movie. Better than "Training Day"! 5 stars
10/06/12 Man Out Six Bucks FPS Mexican roconquista cholos turn LA into 3rd world shitpit 5 stars
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  21-Sep-2012 (R)
  DVD: 22-Jan-2013


  DVD: 22-Jan-2013

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