END OF WATCH Review

End of Watch is a great movie. It is as plain and simple as that. There could honestly be nothing more said about it and if, on that alone, you walked into a theater and experienced it for yourself you would come out nodding in agreement. It is a brutal, unflinching look at two cops in one of the most dangerous areas in the U.S. It centers around two partners and friends who are not related by blood but share the bond of family and hold it to be just as sacred. While there have been plenty of cop dramas in the last few years, and very good ones including this years Rampart, there is something fresh about this take on the day-to-day lives of two inner city cops. Maybe the fact this doesn't feature corrupt cops, cops getting in too deep undercover or any of the other typical situations we find our movie law enforcement officials getting into but instead are doing nothing more than going along for the ride. Watching End of Watch is like experiencing an in your face, real and raw episode of Cops. If Cops were to air on HBO this is probably what it would look and feel like. I didn't really know what to expect going into the film. Both leading men here have had their fair share of credible and award-worthy type films while also having starred in plenty of B-movies and nonstarters. This looked to naturally be in the former category for both actors but the same could also be said for writer and director David Ayer who has made a few films in this genre before. Sure, he wrote Training Day and directed the underrated Harsh Times, but he too has had a hand in a number of projects that attempted to capitalize on his successes that instead ended up being nothing more than generic. Do you remember Street Kings? Probably not. It is safe to say with End of Watch though that everyone involved has hit a home run.

Officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and new girlfriend Janet
(Anna Kendrick) share a first date together.
From the beginning Ayer decided to keep it simple. Telling the story in its most basic form and not becoming overly worried or concerned with plot complications but instead allowing the characters and their interactions, their attitudes to do the work. Ayer has created two seemingly naturalistic characters on the page and Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have taken those blueprints and fleshed them out to living, breathing people who we could see actually hanging out with were they not the most fearless guys on the force. They have an intimidation factor to them, as any cops on film with certain egos will, but these guys are not above bowing down to the system either. They know their place and know better than to test their limits. They are rewarded by the work they do even if they feel like every single day pushes them to the limit of what they might be able to handle. As Brian, Gyllenhaal exudes a confidence in knowing what he wants to do with his time. He is smart, capable, and eager to move up in the ranks thus is the reason he is going to Law school and in the process has to take an art elective where he lands on filmmaking. With this little (and unnecessary) tidbit we are given the handheld camera that re-defines the "found footage" film. There is no pretending this really happened, it isn't cast with unknowns, the technique isn't used as much for the gimmick as it is to make the audience feel they are actually right in the middle of the action. It works, for the most part though it does sometimes feel like a stretch that even the gangs so conveniently have cameras in the most crucial of times as well. This little qualm can be easily dismissed and forgiven as the feature grabs you from moment one and doesn't let go over its nearly two hour run time.

Actors Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Officer Zavala
give award worthy performances.
Over the course of the film we become closer and closer to Officer Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Officer Zavala (Pena) learning more about them and their tendencies as police officers. There is also a nice little community of officers that our two protagonists fit in with that is filled with small but merited performances of real value that are filled out by the likes of America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) Cody Horn (Magic Mike) and David Harbour as Officer Van Hauser. Beyond these small, but crucial roles in the believability of the atmosphere we also have Anna Kendrick (who is apparently the female Chris Messina) and Natalie Martinez as Taylor and Zavala's significant others. Talk of love, happiness and where to find these fill most of the conversations that our heroes have as they ride around patrolling the streets daily. There personal lives absolutely inform there day jobs and we see each of them develop in how much they allow what is going on outside of the patrol car inside it and what calls they decide to take, when they have the power to choose. As we are introduced to the two of them though they have a made a name for themselves by being legit street cops who don't take in the street criminals unless they absolutely have to. They don't abuse their power and they gain a reputation of respect among the locals who live in the decrepit houses on their block. That is of course until they stumble upon one too many cases involving a Mexican cartel that have taken over these neighborhoods. In doing this they uncover disturbing secrets upon more disturbing scenes. The in your face, unfiltered honesty of the piece mixed with the great chemistry that Gyllenhaal and Pena have make the movie not what you would traditionally call enjoyable entertainment, but it is inescapably engaging.

Mike Zavala and his wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez)
welcome a new addition to their family.
Though I didn't really know what to expect going into the film I certainly had high hopes after hearing such positive word of mouth. The film did not disappoint, if anything it surpassed anything I might have expected from another cop drama. That it is not just another cop drama allows it to stand out for defying the genre restrictions and by turning itself into a character study of the kinds of men it takes to wake up every day and go out there not knowing what they might face is exhilarating enough from a theater seat. I can't imagine the rush it must give these guys who enjoy such things. It is something I don't think I could ever do. It is made clear that not every police officer faces the day to day risk these guys do and that they pull their guns out more in one day than the majority would in an entire career. We understand this is specific to the region of LA it documents and it only makes the performances of the two lead actors all the more genuine in their portrayals. It shows how much they want it, how much they honestly couldn't live without it. No matter the story, the action or even the surrounding players, what it comes down to in the end that makes End of Watch not only so good as a film, but so exciting and real are the performances of Gyllenhaal and Pena. Their acting, their commitment is what raises the film above standard cop dramas that you might otherwise be able to catch on network TV any night of the week. As commanding and charming as Gyllenhaal is Pena could not have been a better match for him to feed off of and to make every scripted moment truly feel like the camera was catching two friends goof around while at the same time seamlessly slipping into moments of real meaning. The film will likely go unrecognized during the awards season for its standard premise, but End of Watch is something special, an experience not soon forgotten.