|Tough-as-nails cop thriller with 70s sensibilities, all the nasty mega-brutality one could ask for and a pleasing, saintly, sentimental Joseph Wambaugh-like approach to police on the killing fields of South Central Los Angeles.|
End of Watch **** (2012) dir. David Ayer
TIFF 2012 - Special Presentation
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick
Review By Greg Klymkiw
My Dad was a cop for ten years. When I was a kid it was always fun seeing movies with him - especially cop and crime pictures since he always had more than a few things to say about the "Hollywood bullshit" or happily, the lack thereof. Curiously, it was the crime pictures like Scorsese's Mean Streets and Peter Yates's The Friends of Eddie Coyle that Dad always gave high marks to for capturing the side of life he spent a decade of his life fighting.
Most cop pictures left him cold save for their occasional entertainment value, but a handful of pictures stand out as movies he loved on several levels. Richard Fleischer's adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's The New Centurions was one that Dad always felt came closest to recreating "the life" of cops behind the scenes while Friedkin's The French Connection captured the dull, dirty, mundane aspects of police work and finally, how Don Siegel's Dirty Harry came closest to showing the frustrations inherent in the job and how sometimes, a good cop just had to say, "Fuck the system," and do what needed to be done.
Somehow, I think Dad would have liked David Ayer's End of Watch a lot. Hanging by the slenderest of plot threads, this mostly episodic nosedive into every harrowing moment street cops face, makes for an always jolting ride through the dangers our boys in blue face everyday. The other plus to this very fine picture is both the writing and playing of the two loyal partners Brian Taylor and Mike Zavata - beautifully rendered by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.
A cop's partner is his lifeblood. It's become a cliche in movies and TV, but in reality, the level of loyalty, trust and love a cop has for his partner is treated by most filmmakers in cliched or archetypal ways. It's a testament to writer-director David Ayer that he captures this camaraderie by leaping beyond the by-the-numbers mismatched-partners-who-learn-to-love-and-respect-each-other. From the start, we know these guys are made for each other. If anything, their love deepens and becomes even more demonstrative as the danger and violence in the film intensifies.
Ayer achieves this by using a storytelling technique that in and of itself has become a cliche in recent years, but he pushes it to such extremes that as the movie progresses, we become less concerned with form because of the form and Ayer's clever use of it. The opening few minutes, for example, are shot via a windshield-eye-view of the mean streets of a patrol car, accompanied no less by a portentous reality-TV-styled voice-over. At first you briefly think Ayer's gone nuts until he reveals that cop Brian is a part-time law student putting himself through university as a cop and is studying filmmaking as an elective. As such, he is shooting everything on the job to make a documentary as a class project.
I bought this hook, line and sinker.
When Brian's character is not shooting (and sometimes even when he is on-camera with his rolling camera), the rest of the film is mostly pieced together with a variety of surveillance cams and even through the cams the young electronically obsessed villains use. Add great dialogue, superb realist detail, actual locations plus magnificent performances and it all adds up to a terrific neo-realist-styled slice of life.
Ayer's writing for the cops is dead-on, but what's especially great is how he does not shy away from the banalities and cliches used by the South Central villains who do the dirty work for the cartels. Criminals at this level are boneheads of the lowest order - raised on dreadful television in cultural isolation of the lower order. Ayer takes a big chance here - allowing loftier than thou critics to point fingers at his less-than-balanced portraits of these disgusting thugs. Just as many cops are "dirty", an equal number (if not higher) of the vermin infesting our city streets like rats are zero-brained followers with no minds of their own save for the crap they've ingested in popular culture and from each other.
The narrative itself focuses upon the close friendship of the two cops, their love lives and the importance of family in all its forms - blood, community and crime. Taylor and his Hispanic partner Mike, go about their day-to-day exploits until they happen upon a group of deadly local dealers who are tied to vicious drug cartels. The two cops begin investigating until they get so close to the source of criminal power that the cartel orders hits on them.
So many films in recent years (including those Ayer has written and/or directed) have focused up the "dirty" cops. Reversing this trend with End of Watch is not only welcome but, I think necessary to bolster those in the force who genuinely embrace the protection of the citizenry.
To be a good cop in a world where crime is escalating and when administrative shackles are getting tighter and where cops are even forced into plying their trade by the powers-that-be in ways they know are unfair to those they're supposed to protect is narratively and politically satisfying as it is savvy.
It's the best cop picture in years!
"End of Watch" premiered in a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012.