Movie Review: End of Watch

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, Natalie Martinez, America Ferrera, Cody Horn

Rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use , Running time 109 minutes, Action/Drama

Compare to: Street Kings (2008), The Hurt Locker (2009)

It’s tough for me to watch a movie about cops going out there on the mean streets to protect and serve. Your opinion on a movie like this may strongly depend on your perspective of the police force. Heroes or gangs with government authority? The movie hardly paints an even side but the biggest issue with the film is figuring out what it’s message is.

Keep reading and find out exactly what I mean.

Told through the home video-type format, End of Watch follows two police officers, Taylor and Zavala as they make their way around LA, busting criminals and doing paperwork. But after a few big busts here and there, the duo eventually find themselves the targets of a gang that’s prominent in the area, whose “employees” have gotten caught up in Taylor and Zavala’s routines too many times for the gang to ignore. The cops must deal with this all while trying to balance a personal life and career.

The more interesting aspect of this movie is the realism of the film that the handheld sub-genre offers. This could’ve easily just been a regular movie, with any lines mentioning the present camera being taken out of course. Instead, this has more of a COPS feel to it if the cameras followed the officers home. The story mostly deals with the ridiculous situations Gyllenhaal and Pena are put into, and how these cops deal with it. Sometimes it’s by the book, while other times, their morality seems to bend, but all in all, we’re meant to believe these are good guys.

Ultimately, that’s where the film falls flat. For any positive aspects, the message of the movie seems unsure. Am I supposed to take away that cops are mostly good people with “ends justify the means” attitudes? Am I supposed to take away that cops are dirtier than they make themselves out to be? Is the point that these men are only doing what they have to do to survive while enforcing the law? How do I read this? Surely, this movie isn’t meant to be simply entertaining but to have something beneath it as well.

Writer/director David Ayer’s work is steeped stories of the LAPD. Being from LA, he’s evidently developed an obsession with them although based on his work, I couldn’t tell you what he actually thinks of them. Training Day (2001), Dark Blue (2002), SWAT (2004), Harsh Times (2006), and Street Kings (2008). Are we seeing a pattern here? I’m seeing every one of them filled with corrupt cops as well as decent ones taking them down. Maybe the idea is that for all the terrible things the police force can be capable of, there are always the straight ones to bring back a balance. I’m not sure.

At one point, Pena tells a suspect (in his own home) that he’ll take off his belt so they can go at it. If the suspect wins, he’s free. If Pena wins, the suspect has to put the cuffs on himself. The suspect later gives Pena respect for this, being that it kept him out of serious jail time by only going in for disorderly conduct rather than fighting with a police officer. So am I supposed to respect him for that too? It seems to be left up to the audience.

The performances are on par although some of the dialogue doesn’t feel as natural as Ayer and co. might have wanted it to been although it’s nothing any casual viewer will care about or notice. Many actors playing gang members had actually been or still are members to one degree or another and it shows in the performance although the actions and overall tone of the film doesn’t feel disrupted. People do tend to act differently when they know they’re on camera so to me, it’s sensible for many of the characters to seem a little…off. Even if it wasn’t exactly what they were going for.

Being rated R for “pervasive language” isn’t a joke either, as every other word seems to be one or another. One particular gang member seemed to be paid by the amount of times he used the “f-word” and if that were the case, he made serious bank. It was taking me back to the Summer of Sam days. A Spike Lee joint.

In conclusion (the most boring way to end a conclusive paragraph), all I can really say about End of Watch is that I was entertained for about an hour and fifty minutes. If you’re digging for a real point, I’m not sure you’ll find it. If you are a cop or have been, you might only relate to this to a certain point unless you’re actually with the LAPD because as these guys mention, certain districts have them pulling out their guns more time in a shift than some cops do their entire careers. If that’s the case, it’s a narrow audience who might not want to relive their work day experiences.

Grade: C

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