End of Watch (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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End of Watch (2012)

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It takes two to make a thing go right.Andrew LIKE BannerIn 2012, the year of great middle-end studio films, squeezed in a quickly shot and barely promoted film from David Ayer.  Ayer is a writer who has worked himself in a very effective niche.  His screenplay guided Denzel Washington to his first Best Actor Oscar in Training Day and Ayer went on to write the other morally murky cop drama Dark Blue and the more entertaining S.W.A.T.  The one film he attempted to direct as well as write was the PTSD-afflicted Harsh Times, and while that film felt at times to be too much of a retread of Training Day it still held a good bit of power.

Ayer has worked in multiple levels of the cop film and brought a believable punch to his screenplays.  With End of Watch, Ayer steps back out from the writers chair to direct and bring his lived in feel to another cop film with a twist.  End of Watch uses the much maligned tool of found footage to tell the story of a couple of beat cops who do good, eventually do great, and just don’t know when to stop.

One of the joys of watching a film like this is the realization that I can’t write a genre off no matter how hackneyed the premise seems.  The advertisements pegged this as another story of two partners who have quick quips and big guns to bring to law enforcement.  This was parodied to great effect a few years ago in The Other Guys but after seeing Samuel Jackson and Eugene Levy in a battle of wits and crime I gave up on the genre outside of a punchline.

I also applaud End of Watch for its incredibly diverse cast that all get a chance to shine in some way or another.

I also applaud End of Watch for its incredibly diverse cast that all get a chance to shine in some way or another.

Ayer makes it fresh with his writing.  Right away the focus of the story is entirely on the friendship between Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Pena).  They joke, cajole, know each other’s families, and have each other’s back in a way that isn’t limited by the badge.  One telling scene early on is when Zavala has it out with a gangster Tre (Cle Sloan) and no mention of the fight is recorded for the official record.  It’s a needlessly macho scene that’s played for all the empty braggadocio it’s for and sets the partners up very well.  They’ve both got an idea of bravery tied to their position that they won’t back down from, no matter how destructive, and they’ll go down together.

This doesn’t mean it has a nihilistic bent like some of the films that birthed the buddy cop genre in the ‘80s.  End of Watch is marked by a number of smart timeline markers and sensitively multicultural touches to the screenplay.  There are a number of great action scenes, most notably when the partners jump into a fire to save a child, but Ayer realizes these two aren’t superheroes.  The shenanigans they get into are separated by long passages of just getting to know them and watching their relationships blossom.

Taylor, in another twist from the typical misogynist bent of buddy cop films, just wants a girlfriend to talk to and gets the perfect smart girlfriend in Anna Kendrick.  I hope that she doesn’t get typecast, but the scene where she records herself saying how happy she is to be in his life is so cute that she doesn’t need to branch out anytime soon.  Time passes, life is lived, sometimes there’s excitement but mostly there’s just a quinceanera  to attend and weddings to plan.  The obvious “This job is too dangerous” confrontations are wisely left off-screen leaving the two to joke.  Their observations aren’t built in hate but gentle ribbing off of stereotypes they know neither embodies.  Even the gangs have rivalries built more out of business than of race and sexuality is treated as a fact of life instead of branding a few characters with tokenism.

I wasn't expecting a scene so cute my heart nearly leapt for freedom but here it is.

I wasn't expecting a scene so cute that my heart nearly leapt for freedom.

Most of the adrenaline comes from the strategically placed cameras Taylor has in his car, mounted in his badge, and from major events in their life where it makes perfect sense for the cameras to be rolling.  This means that when the two plunge into the fire there is almost no way to make sense of the destruction all around them.  When they get into a chase, the camera rises and falls along with their attempts at catching their breath.  The approaches are so varied that the film avoids shaky-cam fatigue and puts you into the characters in a way that is refreshingly direct.  Absent are filters and special camera trickery except when we see the actions of the gang, who are so drugged out of their minds that they think that videotaping their spree is a good idea (it’s happened, and with distressing frequency).

The film is so refreshing because we’re watching good, flawed, people at the high points of their lives both personally and professionally.  Even the crime ring they find themselves embroiled in is more a result of their day to day lives than the grinding of a plot machine.  By the end I loved these characters just as much as Ayer and living right alongside them.

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End of Watch tailEnd of Watch (2012)

Screenplay written and directed by David Ayer.
Starring Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Posted by Andrew

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