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Review: End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch (2012)

Directed by: David Ayer

Premise: A pair of Los Angeles police officers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) get involved in a high profile narcotics bust and become the target of a drug cartel.

What Works: End of Watch is a buddy cop film and it mostly does the basic features of that genre well. This film attempts to differentiate itself from other police dramas by immersing the audience in the day to day job of the officers to create a gritty representation of reality. To that end the picture is helped considerably by its casting. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play the police officers and they do a very good job. A lot of the film consists of scenes of the two actors sitting in a squad car, bantering back and forth about work and their families and these scenes manage to be lively and humanize the characters. One of the more surprising accomplishments of Gyllenhaal and Peña is their authenticity. End of Watch is filmed with handheld cameras and uses a lot of natural lighting intended to give it a documentary feel. The presence of familiar actors Gyllenhaal and Peña ought to disrupt that but surprisingly it doesn’t and they blend into the settings. Other casting choices help the film as well, namely the performers who play the criminals and civilians that the officers come into contact with; Maurice Compte and Yahira ‘Flakiss’ Garcia are especially good as gangbangers as is Cle Shaheed Sloan as an ex-con. These actors, some of them unprofessional, lend the film a lot of reality. The dialogue is very good all around, sounding so natural that it might have been improvised and the jargon of both police officers and residents adds to the authentic feel. The action scenes are executed with similar realism and the violence has the excited clumsiness of actual combat. As a depiction of law enforcement, End of Watch is impressive in the way that it creates a complex portrait of these officers and their lives. Gyllenhaal and Peña’s characters are not Murtaugh and Riggs of Lethal Weapon but they aren’t Harris and Hoyt of Training Day either. These men struggle to do the right thing and the filmmakers acknowledge the complexities of law enforcement and community relationships.

What Doesn’t: The filmmakers’ attempt to make End of Watch a feature film version of the television show Cops goes awry. Piggybacking the pseudo-documentary trend, almost all of the footage of End of Watch is sourced to actual cameras used by the characters and like a lot of motion pictures filmed in this way, End of Watch features shaky camera work and the action is often hard to follow. Most of the footage is shot by the officers themselves; Gyllenhaal’s character is attending night school and films himself as material for a class project. The idea that a Los Angeles police officer would video tape himself and others while on the job is absurd and the filmmakers seem to forget the original conceit as the timeline of events goes well beyond a semester project. The film compounds this problem by intercutting material from other sources including DEA surveillance footage, news broadcasts, and material that seems to be filmed from a dramatic or omniscient perspective. The quality of the footage varies dramatically and that makes the picture disorientating to watch. It is further confusing for the audience because it is unclear just what we are looking at and raises questions about who assembled this footage and for what purpose. End of Watch has some great scenes in it but as a whole the film is missing a reason to exist. There does not seem to be a point to it and the film comes across as 109 minutes of random scenes rather than a carefully constructed series of events that constitute a narrative.

Bottom Line: End of Watch isn’t a bad movie but it is unfocused and suffers from a poorly planned visual gimmick. The picture does have strong performances and at the least it is a unique entry in the law enforcement film genre.

Episode: #407 (September 30, 2012)