Title: END OF WATCH
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriter: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, Frank Grillo
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 9/4/12
Opens: September 21, 2012
Believe it or not, most police officers spend full careers without ever having to fire their guns at anything but a paper target. Apparently most cops have beats like Scarsdale, NY, where an adventurous day might be rescuing a cat determined to stay on a tree branch. It’s no surprise that “End of Watch,” written and directed by David Ayer, is not a documentary about such efforts but rather a look at a precinct in violent South Central L.A. City of Angels? Don’t believe it, unless whoever made up that slogan was thinking of the police and not of the hostile forces of the Mexican drug cartel and the African-American gang which is that group’s chief competition. Nor do the gangs play by the usual rules of capitalism, but then again the police are sometimes too busy to read suspects their rights as well.
Ayer’s movie has two themes. One is the tight relationship of a pair of partners who share not only their patrol car but each other’s family events. The other is about the mighty active slimebags who have AK-47’s to the cops’ pistols and rifles. Some in the audience (the women?) will relate principally to the familial aspects; others to the testosterone that issues forth every ten or fifteen minutes, those times that the partners are not either teasing each other or racking up points by offing the bad guys or saving babies from a fire. And Guinness Book publishers: are you alert? “End of Watch” has perhaps a record number of F-words, in the mouths of gangsters literally every sentence, and in no case is the word used to describe moments of carnal intimacy.
“End of Watch” is not the formulaic fare that you’ll find on the endless episodes of “Law and Order,” but an intense tale that gives us in the audience some insight into why people literally on the firing line can barely sit still to enjoy moments of meditation. The two partners are like Jeremy Renner’s character, Sgt. William James, in Kathryn Bigelow’s movie “The Hurt Locker,” a guy who comes back from Iraq, looks at eighty brands of cereal lined up in the local supermarket, and decides to reenlist.
Two top performers, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as Police Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala respectively are like brothers; brothers who like to insult each other in a kidding way but who have each other’s back—as they prove several times during the course of the story. Taylor, an ex-Marine, is presumably of Irish background while Zavala is Mexican-American. Their hobby, one that gets them into trouble with at least one other member of the precinct, is videotaping their travails, so when they make statements that seem to be directed at us in the audience, they are really tracking their daily errands for others. Taylor’s girlfriend, Janet (Anna Kendrick), has a Master’s in “food hydraulics,” which despite its almost comic title makes one wonder how many women with graduate education pal around with cops.
When Roman Vasayanov’s handheld camera is not making us dizzy by the usual fight histrionics (those are the ones in which the audience has no idea what’s going on), his lenses are trained on the two officers in their car jiving with each other, or at family functions, or in the precinct house where a tough sarge and a tougher captain lay down the law to uniformed men and women who, when addressed, sometimes act like rambunctious kids in a classroom.
Some of the life-threatening events involve a) rescuing two babies from a fire; b) Zavala’s putting aside his badge and gun to engage in a fist fight with a man twice his size; c) shooting at members of the Mexican drug cartel in car chases; d) rescuing a horde of folks being used presumably in the slave trade, a side business of the cartel.
Michael Peña, terrifically funny as Jimmy the hospital orderly in Lance Daly’s “The Good Doctor,” gets his chance to let loose in a starring role where he can verbalize his affection toward his partner as well as he can take down the syndicate. For his part, Jake Gyllenhaal, here seen with a shaved head as though he never left the Marines, is not quite as flamboyant as his partner but shows the acting chops that made up pay attention to him in such movies as Gavin Hood’s “Rendition” (a CIA agent questions his assignment upon seeing an unorthodox investigation at a secret facility) and David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (a San Francisco cartoonish tracks down the Zodiac killer).
The conversations between the two stars come across so rapidly, it’s conceivable that some of them are improvised. The action scenes are riveting, the ensemble spot-on (including the look at Officer Orozco played by America Ferrera), and the whole project an ideal one for the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival.
Rated R. 109 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+