"End of Watch" is not only one of the best cop movies in years,
it is one of the best pictures of 2012, balancing lives-in-the-
balance drama with action and humor between its two lead actors.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena deliver performances that rarely reach such depth of character. They make an audience care about their characters and their lives, and their ultra-dangerous jobs, and all that they stand to lose if they don't come home from work alive some night.
Writer-director David Ayer is Hollywood's authority on gritty Los Angeles police dramas, but "End of Watch" is different from his "Training Day" and "Street Kings." This movie is focused on two good cops rather than rogue lawmen.
Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) are partners and best friends, patrolling a section of South Central where every day seems to promise intense action. They seek it out, as we see from not only the fourth-wall perspective, but also through the men's tiny uniform cameras and their squad car's dashboard camera.
This latter view provides many of the movie's best moments, and not only for shootouts and ramming other vehicles, but for the dialogue between Brian and Mike.
It is that of two best buds joking, giving one another a hard time, confessing their secrets and fears, and doing their job. These are characters that you cannot help but care what happens to them as we come to know their hopes and dreams intimately.
The dialogue between Gyllenhaal and Pena is that of two actors who genuinely like one another, formed as if they had gone beyond rehearsals and perhaps doubled-up on police ride-alongs for a month before filming.
With their relationship established as something that's close to a work-marriage, their family lives are also explored, and Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez are perfect in wife-of-cop roles that go beyond token appearances.
Ayer's ear for dialogue and authentic scenes at weddings, quinceaneras and more provide a background of not only these men's immediate families, but of the police family and the "thin blue line" that bonds them.
Ayer keeps his action lively as a series of vignettes of dangerous squad calls. These include neighbor disturbances gone wrong, missing children, house fires and drive-by shootings.
What the men find in more than one case is off-putting, but as a former news reporter who has seen his share of police reports, I can attest to the authenticity in this R-rated picture.
These men have R-rated jobs, and Ayer doesn't shy away from the language of the streets. I'd be surprised if any Quentin Tarantino picture has as many F-bombs as "End of Watch."
Ayer provides an intriguing view of South Central, 20 years after the riots and movies like "Boyz n the Hood," with blacks looking at becoming a minority in the area due to the influx of a Latino population.
It's a dynamic smartly handled on both the street level and in the cultural differences between Brian and Mike, which are repeatedly played for politically incorrect laughs.
These are welcome in cutting the tension that is so pervasive as they scour neighborhoods for the streets' "three food groups: money, drugs and guns" and find all the evil that accompanies such packaging.
This combination works to offer some social insight, as well as a darned entertaining crime drama. There is harrowing violence and startling action, but the story always relies on a bond between partners that is as strong as that of brothers.
Even with something of a cop-out ending, "End of Watch" qualifies as a police story standard for the big screen.
END OF WATCH
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick Starworld 20, RiverWalk, Owasso, Sand Springs, Moviestar Cinema
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Rated: R (strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, some drug use)
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