Review: End of Watch
PLOT: Two Los Angeles police officers find themselves facing day to day horrors while on patrol in South Central, Los Angeles. Things get especially dangerous for the two when a Mexican drug cartel marks the officers for death.
In the opening of the new cop drama from David Ayer (screenwriter of TRAINING DAY and S.W.A.T.) we as the audience witness a police chase via the police car’s camera. This sequence feels very real and more than a little intense. It is also very telling of the strangely structured narrative which borrows a little from the found footage format currently trending in modern cinema. The third film directed by Ayer (previously he helmed STREET KINGS and HARSH TIMES) puts a slightly unique focus on the boys in blue – they are far more sympathetic here than the typical cop flick. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Brian Taylor, a young police officer who is also taking a filmmaking class on the side. Taylor is constantly getting in trouble for shooting video on his watch – questionably giving reason for the found footage format to be abandoned throughout. His partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) has a wife (Natalie Martinez) and is expecting a new addition to their happy marriage. The film follows these two officers as they face a variety of criminals working the beat in South Central, Los Angeles California.
If you’ve seen the trailer for END OF WATCH, you are probably under the impression that it is about two cops marked for death because they know too much about a very insidious crime ring. Don’t get me wrong, this happens and it is part of the plot, but this storyline really only surfaces near the end of the film. If you are going into this gritty cop drama and expecting some sort of action film about two police officers running from dangerous thugs may be sorely disappointed. It took awhile for WATCH to really ingratiate itself to me as I spent time waiting for the film’s villains to show up. When they finally do however, while they are pretty vicious, they do come off a bit over the top and cartoonish. In many ways the problem here is the saving grace. Had these baddies played a larger role, I don’t think the film would be nearly as intense as it manages to be.
While watching this thriller, you could almost make a comparison to the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, in that there are moments where you know everything is safe and Peña and Gyllenhaal are just messing around. Yet once these two get a call things get progressively dark and dangerous for the officers. Shortly after that however, you find yourself feeling safe again until the next crime is reported. In one instance, the officers are called to a panic-stricken woman’s home. Once they arrive, they find her screaming at them to find her children. This particular scene was just plain gut-wrenching for reasons I won’t reveal. Later on when a fellow officer is attacked, the violence is shockingly brutal and will have several audience members cringing at the horror on-screen. For me, this was a case where the actual film was much better than what it could have been had it followed a more generic formula.
What really makes END OF WATCH work is the love shared between the film’s two leads. The camaraderie of these two officers is honest and infectious. With such an amazing chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña, it is hard to not grow attached to their well-intentioned characters. Not only was it easy to see these two as partners, it seemed as though they were as close to brothers as they possibly could be. The dialogue between them is incredibly natural that you have to wonder if these two are this close in real life. Even the women - including Martinez and the new girl in Taylor’s life Janet (Anna Kendrick) – create a real and involving circle of friends and lovers in the midst of this drama. Without the wonderful performances from Jake and Michael, END OF WATCH just wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it does.
Thanks to its docu-drama structure and terrific lead performances, END OF WATCH is a riveting motion picture. While it may take some time to get used to the episodic format, there are sequences here that are just nail-bitingly suspenseful. Sure the bad guys are a tad stereotypical and therefore less affecting, yet they are minimally utilized. It is the day to day horrors that these men witness in order to protect and to serve that make WATCH an effective pulse-pounding drama. The talented Frank Grillo, America Ferrera and David Harbour also star.