End of Watch

Watch to the end (arf), because it's really good.

Released in 2012, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 07 Jan 2013 by Scott Morris
End of Watch image

Write about what you know, is the oft repeated advice. It's why I write nonsense about films, for example. I don't know much about films, but my head's so full of nonsense there's often little to no space for things like "remembering to put trousers on", which is why I'm both so good at ill-informed opinioneering and have so much time to do devote to it, at Her Madj's Pleas. The original intent of this paragraph was to point out that David Ayer writes about L.A. cops quite a lot, but it rather got away from me.

Still, writer/director Ayer does write about L.A. Cops quite a lot, with variable results. Training Day sprang forth from his pen and while it was, in my opinion, somewhat fortunate to get one of them little gold statues that we all think are so important, it was a pretty solid film. Outings like Dark Blue and S.W.A.T. were rather less successful, and 2005's Harsh Times was interesting in only one respect - it contains the only dismal performance I've seen from Christian Bale in roughly twenty years.

Expectations thoroughly dampened, then, for this latest L.A. cop movie, following young patrol officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) on their routes around the less-than-glamorous South Central areas. With heavy gang presences in the area and a constant tension between the encroaching Mexican-dominated gangs and the established gangs, vying for control of territory and drug distribution, it's not the safest place to be.

The framing device for this is Taylor's nightschool film course, and a project that sees him filming his experiences with a camcorder or clip-on camera, for maximum shaky-cam-ness. Narrative-wise it's almost as though this is was a concept for a mini-series that's been squashed into a film format, with a Taylor and Zavala taking, through blind happenstance, a number of calls to small-ish incidents that are all tied back to the Mexican cartels.

You really don't want to be on a Mexican drug cartel radar, as events of the last reel or so of the film prove. The main through line is probably less any criminal investigation as it is the relationships between Taylor and Zavala, and the developing romance with Janet (Anna Kendrick) that becomes a marriage over the span of the film.

It's fortunate, then, that the Gyllenhall / Peña double act works so well. Their friendship and respect for each other is engaging and believable, and their banter is often highly amusing. Their performances really tie the film together, vital for this film to succeed as their characters, and their relationships, are the linking devices to tie together a series of incidents that could easily be reduced to random vignettes.

Oh, but what vignettes they would be. Them there incidents vary between tension-laden, exciting and stomach-churning. That they are happening to people that it's quite easy to care about makes them rather effective and certainly attention grabbing.

There is, perhaps, not much more to contend with than these points on End of Watch, so I shan't belabour the issue. There's a solid argument to be made that as a narrative piece the film isn't exactly covering itself in glory, and perhaps also that the Mexican gang members in particular get the characterisations stuck on "comic-book ,moustache twirling evil cum homicidal", but I can't really see any of that detracting from the enjoyment of the film for all but the most demanding of audiences. There's a good amount of graphic violence here as well, with even the most extreme depicted without flinching that may perhaps be an issue for the more sensitive of audiences, so be forewarned with that.

This is, to my mind, the most enjoyable cop-based film to appear in 2012, indeed one of the most enjoyable anything-based films to appear in 2012, and is well worth investigation.

David Ayer
Cast list:
Jake Gyllenhaal (Brian Taylor)
Michael Peña (Mike Zavala)
Natalie Martinez (Gabby)
Anna Kendrick (Janet)
David Harbour (Van Hauser)