End of Watch

End of Watch - Feat

Now this is what I’m talking about: an action(ish) movie with well-developed characters you can actually care about and whose well-being through the end is not a given. If you’ve read some of my reviews for action movies, you know that one of the biggest issues I have with them is how predictable they are. Because the protagonist is never in any real danger his survival is almost always assured. Sure, he’ll face some major blows, but you know everything will be all right in the end. It makes it hard to care about a person’s story when you’re never really worried about the person’s fate.

OK, I know it’s not exactly fair to compare End of Watch to action movies because it isn’t an action movie as such. It’s more of a buddy cop drama, but there is plenty of action, including gunfire and chases.

The cops are Brian Taylor (played by a bald Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (played by Michael Peña). The movie focuses mainly on their jobs, following them on their daily patrol. In the course of their duties, they repeatedly get in the way of a Mexican drug cartel. Needless to say, the cartel doesn’t take this very well, which means trouble for Taylor and Zavala.

It’s a simple story and a good one. It’ll keep you riveted the entire time, though this movie is not so much about what happens to the two but about their relationship. We spend a lot of the film in the squad car with them, listening to them talk, share stories, get/give advice, rip on each other, and just laugh. In a sense their relationship is even stronger than the ones they share with the women in their lives—relationships we only get glimpses of—because they put those very lives in each other’s hands almost every day. I can’t imagine what that kind of bond must feel like or the kind of loyalty it must breed. They’re not related but they are, without a doubt, brothers. When one vows to take care of the other’s family if something should happen, it’s moving as hell.

It’s the strength of this relationship that makes these characters feel so real to the audience. And it’s because they feel real that we care about their fate. And it’s because their fate is unknown that this movie gets to be extremely suspenseful at moments. When they enter a strange house, you’re at the edge of your seat worried if they’re going to come back out alive. As the story built to its climax, my heart was pounding. That happens very rarely at the theater nowadays. None of the action movies I’ve seen recently—Dredd, The Expendables, Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers—made me feel close to how tense I felt during End of Watch. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy those movies, because I did. I just wasn’t as emotionally invested in them (though The Dark Knight Rises came the closest).

Also contributing to how real this movie feels is the filming technique. Officer Taylor carries a video camera with him everywhere and films as much as possible. Often the movie will shift perspectives from the standard camera to his camera. It’s like jumping in and out of a found footage movie. There are also dashboard cams, pocket cams and surveillance videos that we get to see through. Because the characters are aware they’re being filmed, they often address the cameras (and thus the audience) directly. At times it almost feels like watching an extended episode of the TV show Cops, like we’re all going on a ride along with these two guys. To be clear, it’s not a found footage film, but we get all the benefit of the found footage technique, namely a more immersive experience and deeper connection with the characters who unknowingly address us. We also don’t have to deal with all of the downfalls of found footage movies, namely the constant (and irritating) shaky cam and the ever-present question of why people don’t stop filming when they’re running for their lives.

If it’s not clear already, I liked this movie a lot. Not only did it have interesting characters and intense story, it made me appreciate police officers a lot more than I did before. It was fascinating to watch these people who put their lives on the line every day. They don’t know which, if any, routine traffic stop might be their last. I’ve never really understood the motivation behind choosing a career like this, but I admire them for it. Their instinct is to protect. They jump into the fray without being called upon. They don’t run from danger but pursue it in order to eliminate it. They are regular guys and girls who risk their lives for the greater good. And that’s their job. My job is to prepare bills for a large law firm. The two tasks seem so far apart that it’s hard to believe the word “job” could apply to both of them. They need a bigger word. Like sacrifice. These men and women perform a sacrifice every day. That’s so incredible when you really think about it, and thanks to this movie I did think about it.

It’s great (and rare) when a movie can foster awareness and entertain throughout. That’s what made End of Watch one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. Now it’s your turn. What did you think?

 

End of Watch
Writer and DirectorDavid Ayer (As Writer: Training Day, S.W.A.T., Harsh Times; As Director: Harsh Times, Street Kings)

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