Review: End of Watch (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: Two LAPD beat cops (Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena) run afoul of the street-level foot soldiers of a Mexican drug cartel.
REVIEW: David Ayer's END OF WATCH continues this writer/director's fascination with the LAPD, but in sharp contrast to the violent, rule breaking cops of TRAINING DAY & STREET KINGS, the uniformed officers of END OF WATCH are true-blue heroes, with nary a character flaw. This celebrates the LAPD in the same way something like ACT OF VALOR celebrates the SEALS. Imagine the polar opposite of something like RAMPART, and you've got END OF WATCH, which could almost be a recruiting film for the LAPD, with good-looking hero cops, their adoring wives, supportive superiors, and grateful public.
While it may all sound a little bland, END OF WATCH is actually fairly gripping entertainment. While the idea to shoot it with the found footage technique, which has been done to death, is highly questionable (especially as it's periodically abandoned), it can't be denied that when END OF WATCH works, it works well.
This is mostly due to the two leading men, with Gyllenhaal and Pena having the easy going chemistry that's made many a buddy-cop bromance work. Gyllenhaal plays the alpha, Riggs-like character, being a touch ex-marine who's quick to jump on any call, regardless of the risk. He softens over the course of the film due to his whirlwind romance with Anna Kendrick's character, a sweet-natured college girl with a thing for cops.
Pena's the more conscientious half of the duo, having joined the LAPD right out of high school on the orders of his domineering Latina wife, played by DEATH RACE's Natalie Martinez. While some may take issue at how Pena constantly defers to Gyllenhaal throughout, their chemistry really does convey how over the course of their careers the two have become like brothers. The two are supported by some solid character work from David Harbour as the lone LAPD cop that seems capable of being burned out, while Cody Horn (MAGIC MIKE) and American Ferrera make an intriguing part of female doppelgangers for our heroes (they almost feel like they wandered in from their own movie).
But- END OF WATCH is not a perfect film. Ayer's movies always have pacing issues (with his debut, HARSH TIMES falling victim to a slow-as-molasses final third), and END OF WATCH takes a long time to get going. It only really starts to gel in the final third, when it's revealed that the cops are being targeted by a drug cartel, leading to an explosive, violent climax that's thrillingly staged.
Ayer's screenplay, perhaps in an effort to make up for his previous criticism of the cops, is a little heavy-handed at conveying their nobility (with Gyllenhaal's opening narration being bad enough to almost make me immediately dismiss the film outright). Luckily, it rights itself quickly, although the detours into melodrama are a little hard to swallow at times.
All in all, END OF WATCH, while not quite up to the best cop melodramas, is fairly gripping, and should play well to a receptive audience once it comes out. While a more balanced view of the boys in blue might have been appreciated, I guess that's just not what Ayer wanted for END OF WATCH. As it is, I thought it was pretty good.