Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena
End of Watch is a drama sprinkled with action sequences that focuses on the lives of two Los Angeles police officers; Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala (Micheal Peña). The pair patrols the streets of south central L.A. and through a series of events in which they perform heroic actions; they end up targets for a Mexican drug cartel. This overarching plot actually betrays the real focus of the film, which is the relationship between the protagonists.
The film is shot with a “hand-held” camera perspective that utilizes mobile framing to add a sense of kinetic tension to the action sequences. The result of this is that the film feels like a ride-along with the characters as they take calls and respond to incidents. I thought this approach to the cinematography was phenomenal as it was the perfect fit for a film about beat cops. The reason this approach was so effective was that it wasn’t overpowering; that is to say that the filmmakers didn’t use it as a gimmick and they eased off of the approach for a large number of scenes in which a completely kinetic camera would have been distracting.
The plot of the film is well considered, but as I have mentioned, it takes a backseat to the relationship between Officer Taylor and Officer Zavala. There is a great deal of time spent getting to know these two characters through their back and forth banter. In fact, so much of the film is spent watching the two crack wise and tease each other, one would almost be justified in putting the word “comedy” on the list of arbitrary words describing the genre. Both Gyllenhaal and Peña deliver excellent performances and their interactions with each other feel very organic. Much of my enjoyment of the film came directly from their performances and unlike other films that feature bromance plot lines, their interactions never felt repetitive or tiresome.
The plot arch of the film is worth mentioning because I thought it was very well considered. Much of the plot points take place during seemingly routine calls that turn out to be something much deeper and there is this sense that the two protagonists can’t do their jobs properly without tripping over something complex. This may sound like a ridiculous movie trope, but it makes sense within the context of the film because one of the undercurrents is that the police officers aren’t fully equipped to deal with every scenario they encounter and what makes the protagonists unique is that they don’t hesitate to tackle these overwhelming situations.
There was a sense of pacing that was intentionally meant to foreshadow the events at the end of the film and despite a few small pacing hiccups, it succeeded in feeling like the events in the film were leading to something big. Which leads me to my biggest complaint:
The film ends in a way that betrays the entire emotional arch of what came before it and one poorly made decision in post on the part of filmmakers essentially ruined what the film set out to accomplish. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I have to leave this statement rather vague, but I feel this needed to be said as this was my major issue with the film. For me, this is inexcusable but it is just another example of how decisions are often made in post-production that compromise the artistic quality of the film.
Another thing that seemed rather awkward was the inclusion of a small group of gang members who were initially set up as a foil for the protagonists. Their personalities were utterly uninteresting at best and annoying at worst and the attempt to try and give an alternate perspective on the events in the film felt pointless. What made them stick out like a sore thumb was the fact that the rest of the portrayals of characters in the film felt genuine; or at least as genuine as Hollywood can make them. This group of gang members however just came across like cartoon characters with all the standard generic Hispanic gang banger clichés and in a way, this poor portrayal weakened the overall plot. The filmmakers should have just stuck to the concept of the “ride-along drama” and focused on the perspective of the Officers, rather than occasionally jumping to the perspective of the Looney Tune gang bangers.
I feel I should also mention the subplot involving Officer Taylor’s love interest, Janet (Anna Kendrick). The film spends a good deal of time delving into the personal lives of Taylor and Zavala, and the major way this is done is through Taylor’s quest for a suitable partner. I don’t find this sort of obligatory relationship background to be very compelling subject matter, but within the context of the film it works to try and add a sense of emotional burden to the risks that the Officers are taking on a daily basis. There was an effort made to ramp up the stakes when it came to Taylor’s relationship with Janet, and it felt somewhat forced as it left the impression that their relationship evolved really fast in a very short period of time. This sort of convenience can only happen in Hollywood, and while it doesn’t destroy the film, it does add another line to the list of clichés this move perpetrates.
Overall, End of Watch is a well-conceived film with some very strong acting performances, but a combination of questionable post production decisions and trite narrative elements ultimately keep it from being truly fantastic film.
Reasons to go see it: Gyllenhaal and Peña deliver excellent performances that make the film truly enjoyable to watch. If you like cop films and bromance banter, then you shouldn’t pass this film up.
Reasons to avoid it: The ending of the film might leave some people feeling frustrated, for a variety of reasons. There are many moments that might make people roll their eyes as this film doesn’t exactly cover new ground in terms of content.
Verdict: If this film looked at all interesting to you, go see it. It is worth it and even though it may leave a stale taste in your mouth after it’s over, it will give you something to analyze and talk about for a while after you have left the theatre.
Reviewed by Frank Shuford