End of Watch: A Tough Little Cop Thriller

‘End of Watch’ is a tough little cop thriller with standout performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Unfortunately, writer-director David Ayer, who specializes in this sort of LAPD action item (he also scripted ‘Training Day‘), has lumbered the film with a gimmick that’s implausible, distracting and altogether uncalled-for. Still, the movie is worth seeing, and since it’s now being relaunched (it was originally released in September), there’s a fresh chance to do so.

Gyllenhaal and Pena are two veteran patrolmen — Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala — cruising the very mean streets of South Central L.A. They love being cops and their trash-talking camaraderie, with Taylor firing off jibes about Zavala’s Mexican-American folkways and Zavala responding with pungent japes about Taylor’s lame white-boy enthusiasms, has the glow of real friendship (and often the tang of what feels like in-the-moment improvisation). Both men are romantically attached: Zavala has a beautiful pregnant wife (Natalie Martinez) and Taylor has just found the non-bimbo of his dreams (Anna Kendrick). But the picture is essentially a series of squad-car calls that bring them to the scenes of various drug shootouts, street beatings and general gangbanger mayhem. A lot of this is rousing, bloody stuff. But then there’s the unfortunate gimmick.

The director has saddled Gyllenhaal’s character with a video camera, with which he records what appears to be his every waking moment. How he could manage to do this in the midst of dangerous crime-fighting operations, and from occasionally impossible angles, is an annoying mystery. In addition, there’s a car full of nasty characters on the two cops’ trail, and they have a camera, too. All of this shaky-cam footage creates a pronounced ‘Blair Witch‘ effect. And since the movie’s traditional observational passages are shot in an equally shaky way, it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly which we’re supposed to be seeing. This stylistic strategy is certainly unique in a cop film, but it’s irritating from start to finish.

On the other hand, Gyllenhaal has rarely been given such a complex character to portray, and he digs into it. And Pena has a charismatic warmth that lights up the movie — he may be just one bust-out role away from name-brand stardom. The picture is nicely balanced between savage violence and sweet human interactions and it whips along at a brisk pace. The multi-camera nonsense was a bad decision, but the rest of the movie is worth trying to ignore it for.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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