Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, Frank Grillo
Two LAPD cops become the target of a cartel hit after they confiscate cash and money during a routine traffic stop.
This was one of the more interesting movies that I was eagerly anticipating for the month of September. It has been a pretty good year for movies utilizing the found footage style, and once again we’re treated to something pretty unique with End of Watch. It wasn’t the style of filming that piqued my interest with this movie, but rather it was the two leading men in Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena — who I’m a big fan of for both — and the roles they play: ordinary LAPD cops. They aren’t detectives or part of any specialized division; they’re just simple cops that patrol the streets, and that was something really refreshing.
First off, it needs to be said that I absolutely loved this movie, but this isn’t going to be a movie for everyone — it’ll be very easy to see how audiences can be divided on how they feel about this. For the more socially sensitive people, there are aspects of this movie that may turn them off. As a (buddy) cop film — because essentially it is a buddy cop film — this is one of the more original takes that I’ve seen in a while.
As mentioned earlier, this is a movie that follows around two regular cops. Nothing fancy about them; just two cops in regular, blue uniforms patrolling their area of coverage for the LAPD, and it is a nice change of pace. There’s no big story blown out of proportion of cops being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s just cops doing their job, and as silly as that sounds, it made for a much more compelling story to me.
The biggest reason for that is because the movie revolves around the relationship between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as partners and brothers in law enforcement. It really needs to be stated once again that Jake Gyllenhaal really knows how to connect with other actors. I absolutely loved how he played off Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga in last year’s Source Code, and with Anne Hatheway in 2010’s Love & Other Drugs, and once again he has really great chemistry with Michael Pena.
The two of them really sold their friendship in the movie and they came off acting like genuine brothers. It’s also through their chemistry and the rapport between them that they felt like the ordinary and regular cops that they are portraying, and it added to the sense of realism that this movie was aiming for.
And as stated earlier in the review, this is another interesting take on the found footage style of filming. The movie wasn’t done entirely in this style, but it was used heavily during the movie with a blend of shaky cam. It all molded together to give us this hybrid sense of being there with the two cops, while also giving us that cinematic feel in following the two men around.
When the movie needed to give us the sense that were dealing with real people, the film employed found footage and it worked. It allowed me, as an audience member, to believe that were playing real people doing a real job. When the movie abandoned that style, it did so in areas of the film that would have been totally unenjoyable had they employed it. I have to toss it up as a great directorial choice by newcomer David Ayer, who also wrote the film, because this was a truly great surprise.
Now here’s where End of Watch will divide audiences, since you’ll either buy into what it is trying to accomplish or it’ll lose you completely. The story David Ayer had written wasn’t your typical narrative because of the filming style he employed. Therefore, because of who the movie follows around and because the movie does use found footage, there really wasn’t a consistent build up to the climax.
For long periods of time, the movie was just about Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena doing regular police work, with events here and there that contribute to where the film eventually leads to. Even though I was digging the film, there were points where I was wondering when things were going to start rolling, and even people in my screening walked out. What I eventually understood, though, was that that wasn’t what this movie was about.
What End of Watch is about is what it means to be a cop and the dangers cops face on a daily basis. Being set in one of the more dangerous areas in their city, the movie acts as a highlight reel of the types of situations cops can find themselves in. That isn’t to say the movie glorified cops or necessarily defended what they do, but it helped show the more human side of what being a cop means.
There’s an interesting point in the movie where after receiving an award for their acts of heroism, Michael Pena asks Jake Gyllenhaal if he felt like a hero or if he knew what it felt like to be a hero. It was a simple question to ask, but I liked how David Ayer’s script doesn’t provide any answer for this question he poses. I took it as an open question to the audience about cops because, at times, you’ll have people praising them as heroes and at other times deriding them for their actions.
Eventually, the film does reach a climax and it’s the most action-packed this movie gets. For what it was, it was a damn good sequence that didn’t try to be too flashy, which was perfectly fine for this type of movie. There are still some moments of implausibility and a resolution to it that may not sit well with people, though. I won’t spoil it, but some audience members in my screening were vocal in their complaints and shook their heads, while others were fine with it, including myself. If you lasted long into the movie, it’ll be the final make-or-break point for you. I loved where the movie went and I was fine with how it ended.
This is one of the more surprising films of the year, and a movie that may remain in my top ten by the end of the year. I absolutely loved this movie for what it was and what it tried to accomplish. There are some great performances by the leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena and the strength of the movie is within their chemistry working together.
This is one of the better cop films in recent years and one of my favorite movies of the year. Go check it out.
GO Rating: 4/5