2012, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez. Written and directed by David Ayer.
Who are you willing to take a bullet for? Why? The action is an adrenaline-inducing rush while the relationship between Taylor and Zavala is the emotional core demanding that you care about these LAPD officers as they put their lives in danger day after day after day for the public good.
Here’s the thing about End of Watch: you might think it’s just another buddy/cop movie, maybe even a really good one. After you’ve seen it, you understand that it is so much more. Like writer/director David Ayer keeps saying, it’s really about the relationship between the two guys who happen to be police officer partners. Personally I kept thinking that for officers in a city like LA, particularly in the kind of neighborhoods they patrol in the movie, their experience is more like being soldiers at the front lines of an ongoing, never-ending war with crime. The intense violence and nearly wall-to-wall profanity will be highly offensive to some, but it’s all real to the time and place and characters. Ayer is showing us truth and unfortunately those things are part of it.
As we witness the special and unique bond between brothers and sisters in arms we get to know how much they are risking on a personal level and yet they don’t consider themselves to be heroes. It’s all just a day’s work for them that ranges from ludicrous to gruesome to deadly. They will take a bullet for each other, each would lay down his life to protect the other. Each feels responsible for the other’s safety. There are many vivid and intense moments in this film; I heard people gasping in shock in the theater long before the end.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are 100% believable as cops (as are all the other actors). Their five months of training for the roles did more than prepare them to play the parts, it helped transform them into cops for 22 days of filming. This is not just another cop movie, or just another gritty action movie, or just another buddy movie. This is a movie about what it’s really like for hard working family men and women to heroically protect and serve the public in a very dangerous place.
The movie feels amazingly real thanks to the documentary style in which it was filmed. To tell the kind of story David Ayer wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell it, this was the only way it could have been filmed. Using a handheld/documentary style of filming gives it a sense of realism that is vastly different from the way movies are normally shot. Ayer gives us a perspective that puts the viewer right in the action as if you are on a ride-along with those two officers. I didn’t find it to be distracting or overly shaky or annoying like a lot of “found-footage” movies have been. When the style of filming switched to a more traditional point of view, it was so seamless I was not even aware of it at the time. It was later as I was thinking about my experience of watching the movie that I realized there were some scenes that had not been supposedly captured with phone cameras or surveillance videos or as part of their job. Ayer shows some particular genius in being able to craft this movie to achieve that goal.
Yes, there are lots of things about this movie that are Oscar-worthy. Two of them are the performances by Gyllenhaal and Pena. Go see it. And after you do, the next time you see a police officer, thank him or her for their service. It’s the absolute least you can do.
Rating: THREE Buckets of popcorn, a large soda, box of Milk Duds, bag of peanut M&Ms, large nachos with extra cheese, plus a couple of hot dogs. Then reload and go back and see it again.