Tuesday 8 September 2015

Movie Review: End Of Watch (2012)

A view of the wild streets of South Central Los Angeles from the vantage point of lowly police officers, End Of Watch is a hard-hitting cop drama. The film zooms in on the friendship between the men patrolling the front lines, and avoids the cynicism and tales of corruption often used to colour enforcement stories.

Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are patrol partners in the Los Angeles Police Department. For a school project, Brian takes to recording their daily routine by combining footage from handheld and body-mounted cameras. Brian and Mike spend long hours in their patrol car, punctuated by responding to frantic emergency calls on streets littered with gang wars, domestic violence, and worse. In their personal lives, Brian has started a relationship with Janet (Anna Kendrick), while Mike is expecting a child with his wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez).

The calls they respond to include dealing with Bloods gang member Tre (Cle Sloan), and trying to diffuse a street war between the Bloods and a Hispanic gang led by Big Evil (Maurice Compte) and the near-psychotic La La (Flakiss). They uncover gruesome child abuse at a drug den, rescue occupants in a house fire, respond to an assault on fellow police officers, and start to find evidence of extremely violent human trafficking cartels operating out of safe houses in South Central. But Brian and Mike are just officers, not investigators, and they are ordered to leave the detective work to others. Brian's relationship with Janet turns serious and Mike welcomes his new child, just as the two officers unwittingly get too close to the most violent criminals ruling the Los Angeles underworld.

Written and directed by David Ayer with a view to demystifying policing, End Of Watch is a film about friendship in the workplace, where the workplace just happens to be a dangerous and crime infested cesspool. There are no grand plots, master minds of criminality, or an overarching three-act quest that Brian and Mike are allowed to sink their teeth into. Instead, the film offers episodes of insane intensity, delivered with gut-wrenching realism and interspersed with plenty of rich character development.

The two officers get along, get on each others nerves, rely on each other, make fun of each other and their fellow officers, share everything, and ultimately create an unbreakable bond. Moving well past buddy movie territory, End Of Watch creates two characters who discuss everything with the awkwardness of real conversations in everyday life. They become people to care about, and two individuals who genuinely care about each other. When the action erupts and lives are at stake, the drama is heightened, because Brian and Mike have no super human capabilities, no indestructible qualities, and are just two men nurturing dreams to live a better life with their loved ones.

The business of front line policing is presented as an infuriatingly discontinuous series of engagements. Brian and Mike rarely get to follow up on what they police, and are actively shoved out of the way of detective work and major investigations. They are reduced to dealing with the right here and the right now, and whatever clues they find to connected crime scenes and threads of criminality are beyond their scope. The cops just get to uncover the most grisly evidence of cartels at work, but their jurisdiction is limited to responding to the next emergency call.

Stylistically Ayer relies on hand-held camera work, simulating amateur video and body-mounted cameras, and infusing the film with a thick dose of street-level realism. The soundtrack of mostly forceful rap combines with the bucketfuls of foul-mouthed language to strengthen the film's raw punch. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña melt into their roles, disappearing as actors and emerging as two young men doing their best in an unforgiving environment.

End Of Watch is an exceptionally well made drama, a salute to policing with all its frustrations, foreboding and moments of pure exhilaration.

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