Monday, September 24, 2012

End of Watch

END OF WATCH : Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick (109 min.)

End of Watch is a superb police procedural, one of the better in the genre in a long time.  It is anything but a hollow shell of action and spectacle, and the weight of emotion and the pull and plausibility of these characters surround the tension and the gunplay with a real world the audience can fully embrace.  I was more surprised by the emotional pull of the film than any of the expertly-crafted gunfights.  The violence is a main issue in the film, make no mistake, and the way these two men walk into dangerous situations might go too far in the logic department.  But End of Watch earns its embellishments.

The two officers are Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), a pair of beat cops who occupy the most dangerous districts in Los Angeles.  Brian and Mike are also best friends, which is to be understood having spent so much time together in such dangerous sitruations.  I cannot imagine the level of trust that comes along with friendship within the force.  These characters, however, are not "types," which is an excellent move by writer and director David Ayer.  Neither of these policemen have a gambling issue, neither of them is an alcoholic or an abusive womanizer with some sort of checkered past.  Brian has a girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) he wants to take the next step with, Mike has a wife and children, and they all exist in the same circle of trust, love, and appreciation.  These scenes away from the action are vital to the story and none of them feel arbitrary.  The dialogue ties the knot of emotion tighter around the lives of these officers. 

For a change, Los Angeles cops are portrayed fairly, and balanced.  Brian and Mike aresimply devoted, hard-working cops whose ego gets the better of them as they work too hard to save the day.  Theymake one power move after another on the streets until their amateur police work gets them involved with a drug cartel operating out of the inner city.  They become marked men.

Of course Brian and Mike walk into a number of violent situations and they fire their weapons more in these few weeks than the majority of police officers would fire in a lifetime.  But this is a movie, so embellishments are allowed to amp up the tension and the action.  All of the scenes are filmed as if this were a documentary, and some of them are even shot through the lens of a camera Brian is using "for a project."  I wanted a little more information on this hand held so it didn't feel like a distraction, but it's a nitpicking issue I suppose.

As I mentioned earlier, End of Watch is elevated beyond some empty action thriller thanks to the attention paid to the characters over the action.  The dialogue and the scenes in the police station feel as authentic as any I remember, thanks in part to Ayer.  And I must say it's time to acknowledge Ayer (who wrote Training Day, Dark Blue, and wrote and directed the underrated Harsh Times), who has his finger on the pulse of the Los Angeles crime drama as good as a young Michael Mann.  Gyllenhaal gives one of the weightier performances of his career, since Brokeback Mountain, but Michael Pena deserves Oscar consideration.  He sells the relationship between the two officers because he is the one trying to keep things light, even in the face of danger.  The final act of End of Watch is abrupt and moves quickly, and the epilogue drives home the emotional weight of the film it has worked to earn all along.