End of Watch (2012) Review

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Michael Peña 
Anna Kendrick
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes

IMDb rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%
Letterboxd rating: 3.6/5
My rating: 8.2/10

End of Watch fits right in with your classic cop films. Written by David Ayer, of Training Day and Fury fame, End of Watch features a look at some of the harsh and relentless realities that police officers face on a day-to-day basis. As with most of Ayer’s films, End of Watch focuses on the LAPD and the grungy Los Angeles crime world.

Upon watching this film I hadn’t previously read any reviews; my first impression was that End of Watch was very Antoine Fuqua-esque (specifically Training Day), only to be corrected by the fact that both screenplays were written by Ayers. Both movies have the same gritty feeling, same intensity and the same ability to tap into the viewer’s emotions.

End of Watch is intense throughout, as Gyllenhaal and Pena, portraying Officers Taylor and Zavala, go through their daily routines as LAPD officers. Routine is a loose term here, as the two run into a variety of different instances: shootouts with cartel members, boxing matches with gang members, human trafficking and large drug expedition. Aside from the intense scenes of action, End of Watch features an exposition of humanity. We are often treated to comical and real conversations between Officers Taylor and Zavala, as they discuss love lives, family affairs and everything lewd in between.

Ayers does an excellent job at making his characters as relatable as possible, complemented by exceptional acting from both Gyllenhaal and Peña. Both play memorable roles in the film, as Gyllenhaal plays the more intense, Marine veteran with a flare for trouble. He’s pesky to his fellow officers, often instigating some sort of fight or poking around where he shouldn’t. Peña, on the other hand, is lovable and provides the majority of the comic relief throughout the film, something he has proven to excel at throughout his career. We see both officers heavily invested in their love interests, a dynamic that is complemented by the always pleasant Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez. David Harbour also makes a minor appearance in the film, playing a very believable officer with a short fuse and little flare for comedy.

The rest of the cast leaves a little to be desired in terms of acting, especially the members of the “Curbside Gang,” and fellow Officers Orozco (America Farrera) and Davis (Cody Horn). Both of these sets of characters seem over the top, as the gang members seemingly can’t go two words without swearing in some capacity, paired with very subpar acting. The two female officers (Farrera, Horn) seemed forced, constantly referring to their fellow male officers as “ladies” or making some other slight on their masculinity. Luckily we don’t see too much of them throughout, as we mainly follow Officers Taylor and Zavala through the lens of Taylor’s own camera as he documents his work life for a personal project.

The plot is quick without being choppy, and we are led through the film’s most intense moments, via some random comedic car ride and conversation between the partners. Ayers truly makes you love the characters; you see them go through a variety of iconic life moments like childbirth and marriage. It would seem gimmicky if it didn’t work so well. The film’s antagonists are relevant of the time the film was made, and even now as cartels/gangs/drug wars and all of the likes are running rampant through not only LA but most of North America.

End of Watch begins with a powerful voiceover a la Gyllenhaal, as he goes over the ins and outs of being a police officer. The ending of the monologue hits the hardest upon second viewing:
“I am fate with a badge and a gun. Behind my badge is a heart like yours. I bleed. I think. I love. And yes, I can be killed. And although I’m but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me. They will lay down their lives for me. And I them. We stand watch together. A thin blue line. Protecting the prey from the predators. The good from the bad. We are the police.”

This monologue is especially telling of the fate that lies ahead for our beloved officers. We see them think and love throughout the film. We see some die, others live, but all stand together in a united front as brothers and sisters.

The film ends in tragedy, as both officers are baited into a shootout by one of the gang members who is intentionally driving recklessly. As they attempt to escape, Officer Taylor is hit by a bullet as Officer Zavala desperately searches for any sort of help he can find. One of the most raw and emotional scenes of the movie occurs when the partners live their last moments together. In what he believes are the fleeting moments of his life, Taylor utters the line that would bring a tear to anyone’s eye, “I fucking love you bro.” Sadly, Zavala ends up being the one to go out at the hands of the gang, as they unload into his back as his body protects Officer Taylor.

One of my least favorite scenes in the movie was the ensuing shootout between the LAPD reinforcements who arrived on the scene and the Curbside Gang. It seemed out of place in such a well shot movie, as the scene flashes black and white while heavy metal plays in the background. In all honesty it felt like the intro scene for a Cops knockoff. Nowhere else in the film is this effect used, as all other intense scenes are unaccompanied by any music/visual effects, just the real dead air of the moment.

End of Watch is an intense and emotional film. It doesn’t give in to the stigma of non-stop action films that we are accustomed to nowadays. Rather, it focuses on the humanity of the oft-villainized police, as the action sequences in the film fall second to the relationships that we watch develop throughout.

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