Tense, powerful and gritty, David Ayer’s tough police drama “End Of Watch”, playing in San Francisco at area theaters, celebrates the camaraderie of Los Angeles police officers Mike (Michael Peña) and Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal), rigorously disciplined cops who are also best buddies. They would readily lay down their lives for each other on these rough streets of L.A., and on their drive-through patrols they share personal and often hilarious stories about their lives. We know these men but they don’t know what’s coming around the corner at any given moment. A drug cartel has marked Mike and Brian specifically (and oddly, no other police officer) for death, after they disrupt their operation during a house search. Both receive a warning from an ICE officer, and he’s very serious about what he says to them.
Shot in an intimate video-diary documentary-style at times via Brian’s video camera, “End Of Watch” is a film that immediately engages us, bringing us full-square into a visceral landscape of atrocities that repel us. An immensely likeable duo, Mike and Brian bravely plunge into life-risking situations while encountering resistance from a ranking officer Van Hauser (an icy David Harbour, he of “Revolutionary Road” and “The Green Hornet”.) They have a sixth sense of each other and aggressively try to keep the streets safe from crime. We sense that they aren’t rogue cops of “Rampart” or Rodney King L.A., but cops who genuinely care and zealously try to protect and serve.
Mike and Brian have beautiful women in their lives, who quickly bond with a circle of other police wives and families. “End Of Watch” is about family and traditions on both sides of the crime line. “Watch your six” is a mantra among the L.A.P.D. in the film, and it is followed to the letter. The code of protection and family is mirrored amongst the gangster culture of L.A., with some intense moments amongst East L.A. gangs and the L.A.P.D. Raw, pulsing and immediate, “End Of Watch” dazzles, creating an uneasy atmosphere that undulates into increasing dread. While Brian’s camera threatens to be a hyperactive presence throughout, the anatomy of Mr. Ayer’s film is all about procedure, impact and resonance, and in each of those respects it succeeds.
Suspenseful, Mr. Ayer’s film plays like an animated, invigorating version of the popular television series “Cops”. If nothing else, “End Of Watch” is an entertaining and poignant film in a standard cop-buddy genre that is tried and true. What distinguishes “End Of Watch” from many others of its kind is its heartfelt and emotional connection to the principal cop characters and their genuine affection for each other.
This latest film is Mr. Ayer’s most sentimental, a departure from the bleaker and brutal “Harsh Times”, his directorial debut, and more fiercely jarring than “Training Day”, the Oscar-winning film that he wrote. Yet “End Of Watch” should have had a harsher resolution than it does, and been the realistic film at the end as it is prior to that point. Nonetheless, it is a commendable, riveting effort, driven by effective performances from Mr. Pena and Mr. Gyllenhaal, the latter of whom easily travels from physical roles (“Jarhead”) to less physical ones (“Zodiac”, “Love And Other Drugs”, “Brothers”), and does well in both. Notably, America Ferrera is very impressive as an L.A.P.D. officer.
There’s a touching coda to Mr. Ayer’s film that further illustrates how random and unpredictable life is, and it serves to underscore the fleeting nature of life and circumstance. “End Of Watch” is about appreciating life and family for what they are no matter what the conditions, and numerous characters fail to do so. Mr. Ayer has directed his most assured and complete film to date.
Also with: Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn, Cle Shaheen Sloan, Jaime FitzSimons.
Original review here
“End Of Watch” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use. The film’s running time is one hour and 49 minutes.
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For a list of Omar’s quadrust.com stories and film reviews, click here. He’s been a contributing film critic for “Ebert Presents At The Movies” on PBS television and is a far flung correspondent for the preeminent film critic Roger Ebert and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
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