End of Watch (2012)

22 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There is one unfortunate problem with the police drama “End of Watch” that sometimes makes it hard to handle; not just because some audience members couldn’t seem to bear it, but also because it’s an overused gimmick that does not work in the film’s favor. But first, let it be said that aside from said-problem, “End of Watch” is a gripping, insightful and effective tale about L.A. street cops who risk their lives with such importance of their mission.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, a pair of South Central cops. Paying acknowledgement to everything that “End of Watch” does right (before getting to that important thing later), Gyllenhaal and Pena deliver excellent performances. They’re two ordinary guys who have a strong bond with each other, and the chemistry is existent and natural throughout the film.

Taylor and Zavala’s night-shift job is nothing new for them—responding to disturbance-of-peace calls, rescuing children from house fires, etc. But their beat is mostly full of drugs and gangs, so there’s always that feeling of wanting to look behind you at every step. And surely enough, because they take their job seriously, Taylor and Zavala are watched upon by a Mexican druglord who wants them stopped (meaning “killed”) before they can delay his plans.

While all that’s going on, “End of Watch” progresses with the lives of Taylor and Zavala. This is the best thing about “End of Watch”—it takes the time to develop the central characters outside of their police cars. While the film has the usual ride-along, crime-spree elements (with daring heroics and “that-was-close” moments), it also goes into the lives of these two cops as they connect to each other, banter with other officers, and spend time with their women (Zavala’s wife Gabby, played by Natalie Martinez; Taylor’s girlfriend Janet, played by Anna Kendrick). These sequences are handled with credibility and effectiveness. They’re needed to make the audience care for the lives of Taylor and Zavala when things get nasty on the beat.

“End of Watch” also takes the audience on what feels like an authentic ride-along in its sequences where Taylor and Zavala constantly come across one major situation after another. The action scenes that follow are realistically gruesome and impactful, and it mostly rings so true that you would think you were watching a documentary on the subject…and this would be as good a spot to bring up the key problem with the movie. Taylor, along with other officers (and even some of the gang members), constantly film everything happening around them with handheld digital cameras. This means that the filmmaking technique of constantly-shaking-the-camera-so-the-scene-feels-even-more-intense is evident for the most part of the film. Why does this not work? Well, number one—this gimmick doesn’t work anymore; it’s awkward and overdone. Number two—because a lot of the action scenes consist of the camera shaking, it’s difficult to see some of the action, which is not supposed to be the case of an action film (action films exist to show the action). Number three—what is the point of when the film finally does move to the third-person perspective, the camera still continues to shake violently? It’s distracting, as well as dizzying, and because writer-director David Ayer is already a proven talent, it’s not needed.

Despite that, however, “End of Watch” is recommended because of its riveting elements that make similarly-themed movies look like nursery rhymes. Thanks to solid acting, convincing human drama, a good deal of plausibility, and hard-edged action violence, “End of Watch” works effectively.

NOTE (two years later): After seeing this a third time, two years since I originally wrote this review, I kind of got used to the shaky-cam. It’s like an episode of “Cops” with the double the authenticity. So there you go–I changed the Verdict rating from a 3 to a 3.5 with that in mind, because the film overall is too strong for a 3. (Also, two years later, just a random statement, but I love this line from Michael Pena: “Policing is all about comfortable footwear.”)

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