Opening with a high-speed pursuit shot through the windshield of an LAPD squad car, End of Watch set the pace right from the start — a visceral ride-along with two thrill-seeking cops.
The film revolves around two LAPD officers, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), who have sworn to protect and serve one of the Southland’s most dangerous neighbourhoods — South Central Los Angeles. Giving the story a gripping first-person immediacy, the action unfolds through the footage of handheld HD cameras of the police officers, gang members, surveillance cameras, and citizens caught in the line of fire to create a riveting portrait of the city’s most dangerous corners. With rising drug cartels and gang violence, these cops risk their lives every day, and soon find themselves targeted for execution.
The story takes place over the course of a few months, but it still has the feeling of a “day in the life”. Taylor and Zavala spend their shifts dealing with gangs daily while looking for drugs, guns and money – But it’s the quieter times with them in their patrol car that is the most fun to watch. The film beats like a drum, moving from intense to calm back to intense. Most of the calls they go on are simple domestic disputes or other mundane police work, but when action strikes it doesn’t disappoint. These characters are utterly engrossing and their relationship is the film’s core driving force. Gyllenhaal shows some of the same rugged strength he brought to Jarhead in his portrayal of the cocky, sarcastic Taylor. Michael Pena is funny and effortlessly commanding as his co-star, and together Gyllenhaal and Pena give a fantastic and authentic performance.
Supporting players are Natalie Martinez, who plays Zavala’s pregnant wife, and Anna Kendrick – a danger-drawn thrill seeker who is currently Officer Taylor’s prize. As cheesy at it may sound, the romance in the film is believable. There is an intimacy and chemistry between this cast that shines throughout the entire film. End of Watch is propelled by the strength of its characters and how they relate to each other and their world. You can’t help but care for them because the film is so full of heart.
Director/Writer David Ayer’s (Training Day” and “Harsh Times”), has always been fascinated with law enforcement, and End of Watch reinforces that. Instead of Hollywood glorifying the individual, the film depicts an honorable and efficient organization of people working together. In one scene, you find the partners at the end of their shift, lacking sleep and barely being able to keep their eyes open. When all of a sudden Taylor and Zavala spot a burning house and call in the situation. When they realize the fire department might not arrive in time, Zavala doesn’t hesitate to act, risking his own life to rescue three children from the blaze — and as always, Taylor has his back every step of the way.
Prior to watching the film, I did not realize that most of it would be through the eyes of “first person camera’s and other devices”. I thought it was going to be a regular film just like “Training Day”. Personally, I don’t like the feel of camcorder first person video “Blair Witch” style filming. Not only does it feel dated to me, but it sometimes lowers the quality of the film – it just seems preposterous that either the cops or their adversaries would be toting around cameras. The film’s “found-footage” gimmick adds little to the feature, but for some reason the technique still worked and flowed seamless — especially during the shootouts and tense confrontations.
End of Watch makes an impact of stressing the important need to recognize that there are real people out there who risk their personal safety for all of us each day. The film emphasizes this by using “real life” scenarios with so much tension that it will put you on the edge of your seat. Despite the “first person shooter” camera angles, the film is wonderful and well played. If you are a fan of police dramas, definitely check this film out. — I give “End of Watch” an 8/10.
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“End of Watch”, is rated R for some disturbing images, sexual references, pervasive language, some drug use and strong violence. Running time: 109 minutes. In theatres everywhere September 21, 2012.