End of Watch is a film about a pair of LA street cops. There are no cool detectives, no defense attorneys, no courtrooms, no bail bondsmen, and no medical examiners. We aren’t going to see the judicial system at work, nor will we see any cops visiting criminals in prison for intel about some pending case.
Another key element is that the ‘bad guys’ have zero redeeming qualities. To them, the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles is a war zone. For them, every day is a fight for survival.
From another perspective, this isn’t a film about corrupt cops. The last cop film I watched prior to this one was Rampart – a film that was about one corrupt or maybe we should just call him a disturbed cop. In this film, we can trust these guys because they trust each other. As Officer Mike Zavala, played by Michael Pena, said to his partner Brian Taylor, played by Jake Gyllenhaal – You’re my brother, if anything happened to you, I would take care of your kids…
And when they say it – we believe it. Brian and ‘Z’ work in LA’s toughest neighborhood – South Central. What are they looking for? Dope, guns, and money – which could turn up at any time – even on a ‘routine’ stop for a traffic violation.
The film opens with a car chase. This is South Central so there are a lot of back alleys and turns involved. Our perspective is from a camera mounted on the police car. A shoot out ensues. Our cops are later cleared as the shooting is declared legal. At that point the film begins in earnest as we meet Officers Taylor and Zavala.
The film was written and directed by David Ayer. He’s a guy with deep knowledge and understanding of the Los Angeles police milieu – he wrote Training Day and S.W.A.T., and he directed Street Kings. Which means he’s in a familiar place with End of Watch.
What he’s done to give the film a uniqueness is to have Taylor enrolled in Law School, and he’s also taking a course in film-making as an elective. So he’s always got his video camera with him. Ayer’s thing was to incorporate footage from Taylor’s camera along with footage from the police car’s mounted cameras, as well as the traditional style of third person perspective that you get from a standard movie camera.
That also means you will get a lot of shots made with the hand-held camera, or the lapel cameras which are shaky, jittery, an unstable.
The story, as it plays out, is kind of simple. In the course of Taylor and Zavala’s standard police work – they grab a member of the Mexican drug cartel for a traffic violation, then they stumble into an unguarded stash house. What this means is that the Mexican cartel orders a hit on these two cops.
Which is what drives Act III of the film.
I think that film will immerse you into the life of these two cops. You see them at work, at play, and we get an excellent handle on what kind of men they are. They’re boisterous and they’re very good at what they do. You will see that police work is sometime just a matter of luck.
You will also notice the perfect blend or chemistry between the two leads. Once the film has set them up – it is as if you are no longer watching actors. Gyllenhaal is sort of reprising his role as a marine in Jarhead. In this film he is now a cop but he was in the Marines before becoming a cop. Michael Pena, on the other hand, is not an unfamiliar face. We’ve seen him in plenty of films, but this time he is truly at the forefront. His Zavala comes off as not nearly as fierce as Gyllenhaal’s Taylor, but that thought will vanish rather quickly, and we will admire him.
The film is violent, and the action is very intense. You could say that watching the film is truly a visceral experience. A reminder – this isn’t a film for folks who don’t care to see violence, and this isn’t a film to bring your kids to. Watch for some outstanding performances in the support roles – Anna Kendrick as Taylor’s girl friend Janet, Natalie Martinez as Zavala’s wife Gabby, and David Harbour as another cop named Van Hauser. He’s the one who says, Watch your six.
I will score it at four point two five and recommend it. I’ve taken points away because the ‘personal cameras’ aspect is a bit overdone. I’ll warn you that the language in this film is very crude and is definitely not for the sensitive. You won’t be able to count the number of time you’ll hear the f-word. At times, it will be heard like every third word. This adds to the intensity. So if you want action, as well as a gripping entertainment, and if you especially want intensity, and by that I mean in great heaping portions – then this is definitely a film you should not miss. Check out the HD trailer above.