Movie Review | End of Watch
Other police films try to capture the real day to day life of police officers. But in all those films, in order to keep the audience’s interest there had to be an element of action, a thrilling ending where the good guys get the bad guys and all was well until the next case. End Of Watch doesn’t do that. In fact, End Of Watch is the most realistic portrayal of the day-to-day life of police officers in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.
Shot in traditional camera operating style combined with “raw, found footage photographic style,” End Of Watch stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, respectively, following them through the summer of 2011 in the streets of South Central LA. The film opens with one continuous shot from a police cam following a sedan through various streets and alleyways until the four perpetrators come out of the vehicles firing at will at Taylor and Zavala. Following their police training, Taylor and Zavala manage to kill all four using precise aiming and shooting techniques that actually put the duo at more of an advantage than their criminal counterparts. This nicely sets the tone for the rest of the film since End Of Watch is more of a character study of police officers who in real life go on leave after killing a suspect, attend roll call, haze one another, share war stories, to the more mundane matters such as filling out paperwork, to patrolling a beat. In addition to following the daily nuances of police life, we also look into their personal lives; Taylor, the ex-Marine who walks around with a video camera for a film studies course that explains the raw video footage style, is a pre-law student who can’t seem to find the right woman for him until he meets Janet (Anna Kendrick). Zavala is married to his high school sweetheart expecting their first child. Throughout the film we see how the officers handle their personal lives with their lives patrolling the streets, letting out steam by attending quinceaneras, weddings, and an impromptu car trip for Taylor and Janet to Vegas.
Back on the job, we watch the officers handle a variety of calls. The crack addicted couple who duct tape their children up then report them missing; the gangbanger who picks a fight with the postman then taunts Zavala until he finally gives him and fight it out while Taylor just looks on with his camera; responding to an officer down call in which they find their fellow officers severely injured including one being stabbed in the eye while his rookie partner’s face is viciously pummeled; and the fire they respond to in which they risk their lives in order to save two children trapped inside. When they arrive back to work after a medical leave (because in real life no one can come back to work immediately afterwards), they receive a standing ovation at roll call and citation medals at a ceremony dedicated to them.
While on patrol and following up on a tip they uncover evidence pertaining to a dangerous Mexican drug and human trafficking cartel, putting their lives in danger. Even the ICE agents who quickly must undo the damage Taylor and Zavala have done to their own separate investigation are unwilling to cooperate other than to warn them to watch their backs. Knowing they’re constantly under threats they proceed as usual but also follow up on lead after lead until they uncover a related human trafficking ring involving the same cartel. With another operation uncovered the cartel puts out a bounty on the two officers, quickly recruiting a local LA Latino gang to go after them. The ending is certainly unexpected but explosive, heroic but sad, leaving the two central characters to proclaim their brotherhood forever.
Unlike other cop films like Colors and Training Day, End of Watch does not rely on an overly exaggerated plot line. The real focus of End Of Watch are the officers themselves who patrol the streets and risk their lives plus put their own lives on the line for their fellow officers. You cheer not just for Taylor and Zavala but all the other officers. There is no instance, none at all, where the criminals are seen in a glorious light. You do see conflicts between the officers, officers berating one another, at other times showing no respect especially at a young rookie officer whom the veterans still insult after being severely injured. Yet you also see officers at their best, displaying bravery in the line of duty. The cartel subplot really makes up one fourth of the film. End Of Watch wants you to really know who Taylor and Zavala are, really care for them, build up the suspense and you really feel you are watching an exciting, real-life docudrama not a standard action, police crime drama. Being a police officer isn’t about finding action. The action finds them, and sometimes the good guys do lose in real life. That’s what the film achieves; it’s a tribute and a realistic look at the lives of the heroes behind the badge. It is one of the best films of 2012.