Review of End of Watch

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A drama centered on the long-term friendship and partnership between two cops (Michael Pena & Jake Gyllenhaal) tasked with patrolling the mean streets of south central Los Angeles. Anna Kendrick & America Ferrera also star.
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Movie Review: "End of Watch"

-- Rating: R (strong violence, language, disturbing images and drug use)
Length: 109 minutes
Release date: September 21, 2012
Directed by: David Ayer
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Cast: Full cast and crew

David Ayer, the screenwriter and director of "End of Watch," is no newcomer to the cop-movie film world. His past work on "Training Day," "Dark Blue" and "Street Kings" has given him plenty of credibility when it comes to bringing gritty stories involving police action to the screen. That experience shines through every frame of "End of Watch" from start to finish.

Even though "End of Watch" belongs to the cop-movie subgenre, Ayer takes great pains to separate it from the pack. The elements are typical to most buddy-cop films, except that the two stars of the movie, Zavala (Michael Pena) and Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), manage to raise the bar quite a bit over the norm. Together, the two have a charismatic partnership that makes their every scene memorable.

The plot is nothing new for cop movies. Zavala and Taylor are shown patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles, dealing with a variety of problems, from the general violence of the gang-filled area to rescuing kids from a house on fire. The two are on the streets following a recent shooting incident of a suspect. Though the event is declared a clean shoot, it has left a bit of tarnish on the reputation of the pair.

What helps differentiate "End of Watch" from its fellow cop movies is the quasi-documentary style of the film, courtesy of Taylor. Taylor is a film student, filming the pair's daily activities for a class. This provides a narrative to the movie that lets the viewers in on what Taylor is thinking of the action that's occurring. Coincidently, a group of gangbangers is also filming their illegal day-to-day activities, giving the viewer a look from the criminal side.

The juxtaposition of cop and criminal makes for an interesting look at the effects of each side of the equation. Zavala and Taylor are shown as a set of humble heroes, going through their daily lives trying to make a real difference on the streets of LA. The gangbangers, on the other hand, revel in their violent actions, undoing much of the good done by the partners.

Eventually the pair of cops stumbles across a Mexican cartel in their patrol area and begins to investigate its activities. The investigation reveals a criminal organization leading the trafficking of both drugs and humans through the area. This investigation sets up the main action of the movie, driving the plot through to the end as the cops make such a nuisance of themselves to the cartel that the head of the criminal organization places a price on their heads.

"End of Watch" manages to balance the heavy action scenes with a truly in-depth look into the main characters. Gyllenhaal's performance as Taylor is one that's filled with gravity. His characterization of Taylor presents the picture of a loyal and caring man who serves as the anchor for the partnership. This is helped greatly by the scenes he has with his girlfriend Janet, played by Anna Kendrick. Michael Pena turns in an equally brilliant performance as the lighthearted Zavala. Gyllenhaal's seriousness proves to be the perfect foil for Pena to work against, along with on-screen wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez).

The supporting cast is a strong addition to the film. Veteran officers Van Houser (David Harbour) and Sarge (Frank Grillo) provide some much-needed stability and age to the film, while America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") provides a female officer's point of view as Orozco.

Los Angeles also plays a large part in the film. South Central Los Angeles is shot with a gritty reality that serves to heighten the tension of the movie. The cinematography helps ramp up the action sequences, keeping the action on the screen believable throughout.

Realism is at the center of this film. Gyllenhaal and Pena trained for five months to prepare for their roles, which included ride-alongs with police officers in the Los Angeles area. The intense training before filming began helps tremendously with film immersion, showing clearly in how each actor portrays his character when patrolling the streets. While the action throughout the film may be a little over the top, the training ensures that viewers never lose the sense of Gyllenhaal and Pena as cops.

"End of Watch" isn't your typical buddy-cop film. Ayer manages to pull the movie from tried-and-true formulas while hanging onto the familiar trappings of the genre. The acting is superb, the writing is realistic and the cinematography helps bring South Central's streets to life in a way that's rarely seen. The combination of elements makes this a great film that's more than worth the cost of a theater ticket.

Rating: 4 out of 5