Synopsis: Follows two young Los Angeles police officers as they patrol the city’s meanest streets of south central Los Angeles. The film creates a riveting portrait of the city’s most dangerous corners, the cops who risk their lives there every day, and the price their families pay.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frank Gillo, Cody Horn, America Ferrera
Director: David Ayer
Running Length: 109 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: One thing I have learned time and time again in 2012 is to not judge a film by its preview. If you were to judge End of Watch solely by its trailer you may be tempted to write it off as yet another cop drama, one in a long line of similar features. What’s presented here is a gritty, one-of-a-kind winner that keeps the stakes high and tensions higher featuring tour-de-force performances from its two stars and sets a benchmark for the urban drama genre.
Where most of these types of films go wrong is when they try to make some kind of moralistic statement about crime and criminals, reducing the people onscreen to mere pawns in a larger statement about society. End of Watch eschews such tripping points by not being preachy or familiar and giving equal weight to the quiet moments as they do to the realistic action sequences.
Starting off with the kind of car chase usually reserved for the latter half of a picture, the movie jumps out of the gate at a nice pace that it maintains throughout. Officers Taylor (Gyllenhall) and Zavala (Peña) are young partners that fill their patrol days talking about their lives and loves with a rapport that is instantly believable and relatable. Were they not wearing bullet proof vests and carrying around weapons they could be any two buds chatting the day away. They clearly know each other inside and out, aware of which buttons to push and which to stay away from. Over the course of the film (about a year goes by) we follow not only their beat but their life-changing moments we sometimes only hear about.
Going too much into detail on the plot would be unfair because director/screenwriter Ayer’s script is so tightly wound and well thought out. Looking back now, I see that Ayer clearly had a plan all along that he followed through with with copious amounts of style and grace. Though the film is graphic and brutal, it’s not a punishing film for the audience to take on because he has provided enough human rewards throughout.
Absolute authenticity seems to be on the mind of everyone involved which is yet another selling point of the film. Gyllenhaal and Peña spent countless hours researching cop life, doing ride alongs, and getting to know each other. This work is priceless as it was essential that the audience buy the bond between the two men from the get go. The film doesn’t have time to ease us into the action so the burden lay with Gyllenhaal and Peña to deliver.
Deliver they do. Gyllenhaal is not one to shy away from heavy material and the actor should be applauded for locking into a role that rivals his Oscar nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain. As a cocky (but not annoying) officer of the law he’s charismatic when he needs to be and all business when he has to be. Ambition drives his Officer Taylor and when he realizes too late what that ambition may have cost him and his partner, the overall effect is heartbreaking.
Peña is an actor that continues to be underrated in the film industry but with End of Watch he may finally get the recognition he deserves. Though both men are strong, it’s Peña who should be getting end of the year notices for his work as the straight-talking family man that acts as a mentor and brother to Taylor. His delivery of some more heavy handed material is on the money as is his overall demeanor in relation to others onscreen. Please let an Oscar nomination come his way for this film…though Gyllenhaal may be the bigger star he couldn’t have given the performance he did without Peña by his side.
Ayer has filled in the rest of the film with strong actors that command during their screen time, with Ugly Betty herself (Ferrera) earning good marks for her supporting role as a fellow cop. Kendrick and Natalie Martinez are the loves of our two men and both women make good use of their limited time. Martinez especially made a nice impression – she’s another one to watch.
To anyone that has trouble with handheld camera techniques you should be warned that much of the film is shot in a semi-documentary style that can be hard to watch. It may be a little hard to by that so many of the characters would have an excuse to be filming the action but overall it’s a well balanced technique that adds to the realistic feel.
There are two elements of the film that I’ll be nitpicky about. The first is just a general editing problem in that I think a bit too much was left in when it should have been excised to keep the film humming. These aren’t unwelcome moments at all…but they slow down the action enough to be obvious places where a cut could have been made. This goes double for a scene at the end that would have been better as a deleted scene on the DVD/Blu-Ray release.
The second element is an almost surreal amount of F-Bomb usage. Now, I’m no prude to vulgarity or its place as a cultural tool but the movie has the most F-words of any movie I’ve ever seen. One character speaks nearly entirely in the F-enheimer with the occasional noun thrown in to form a complete sentence. Most of the usage was warranted but there were moments when I started to wonder what it really added to the proceedings.
Nitpicks aside, End of Watch is certainly one of the strongest films I’ve seen this year. It’s a movie that earns its stripes with a perfect mix of the personal and professional lives of two officers you’ll find yourselves carried away with in short order. It’s filled with twists and turns that aren’t there to shock you but to show how life can switch on a dime – and its how you deal with these shifting situations that define who you are. Don’t miss it.