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End of Watch (2012)

January 29, 2013

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written by: David Ayer

produced by: David Ayer, Matt Jackson, John Lesher, Jillian Longnecker, Alex Ott & Ian Waterneier

directed by: David Ayer

rating: R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references and some drug use)

runtime: 109 min.

U.S. release date:  September 21, 2012

DVD/Blu-ray release date: January 22, 2013

 

As both a writer and director, filmmaker David Ayer has explored the gritty, violent world of Los Angeles in gut-punching films like “Training Day”, “Dark Blue”, “Harsh Times” and “Street Kings”.  Now with his most recent work “End of Watch”, Ayer has solidified his place in film history as the premier chronicler of the LAPD.

The film follows two patrol cops, partners Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) as they cruise around South Central Los Angeles responding to 911 calls and disturbances.  It shows them clowning around during roll call, suffering the tedium of guarding crime scenes, the sudden rush of a deadly gunfight, and the after work parties to blow off steam.  Everything is being recording by two personal digital cameras on their uniforms, and a portable camera being carried by Taylor.  This is all for a film project he is recording for a night class that he takes after hours (and which we never see him attend).  In fact, the gimmick of the film is that EVERYTHING is being filmed with handheld cameras, from a vicious gangland drive-by shooting to Taylor’s own wedding, though the premise is stretched thin sometimes, and abandoned altogether at other points.

 

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This style, which I typically find quite annoying in other films, works well for “End of Watch“, especially during the action sequences.  Scenes of Taylor and Zavala kicking in the door of a suspect’s house, or chasing down fleeing gang members are lent an added sense of immediacy and chaos.

“End of Watch” succeeds largely on the charisma and chemistry of the two leads.  Gyllenhaal sort of brings back his “Jarhead” role, a swaggering, macho ex-Marine, brave, smart and quick with raunchy sexual jokes.  He is single, but eventually settles down with a new girl, Janet (Anna Kendrick), who appears to civilize him a little bit.  His balanced and more level-headed counterpart is excellently played by the continually underrated Michael Peña.  His understated performance contrasts well with the loud-mouthed Gyllenhaal.  As someone who recently married his high-school sweetheart (Natalie Martinez), and has a newborn on the way, he will still fearlessly charge into a burning building to rescue children, showing an interesting contradiction between his commitment to his job and his own personal safety.

 

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Together they make an excellent team, cracking jokes and cracking heads, as the movie swings wildly from humor to horror and back again.  I would have been more than happy to just follow these guys around, getting a first-hand feel for the chaotic lifestyle of a LAPD officer.  But Ayer still felt the need to force some sort of plot on this thing, and thus we get a third act turn involving a dangerous and bloodthirsty drug cartel operating on the streets, and a somber coda to the whole affair.

Ayer knows Los Angeles.  This is his city, and in “End of Watch” he takes us on a roller coaster ride through the entire universe of crime operating there and the people who exist within it: the number chasing police captains, the blunt-smoking gangster gals, the trembling rookie cops, the worried relatives, the abused children and the tight-lipped Feds.  This is at the very least an entirely enjoyable buddy cop flick, and at its best a gripping modern crime thriller.  Acting as a nice counterpoint to another LA cop film that came out in 2012 “Rampart”, “End of Watch” is probably the best straight-up police film since Ayer’s own “Training Day.

 

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RATING: *** 

 

 

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