End of Watch: Best cop film since Heat

David Ayer’s film will buy up real estate in your head long after it’s over.

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End Of Watch is one of the best movies of the year.  I’m a sucker for movies about cops, especially gritty buddy cops stories, but this movie blew me away and sailed through the roof of expectation.  A powerfully done crime epic about the brutally violent streets of South Central L.A. where cops put their lives on the line every time they go on watch.

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This movie is so authentic, the tension and close encounters of these police officers crawls up inside your chest and system and doesn’t care to leave.  Ayer, pulling writer and director duty here, doesn’t spare the viewer a single barbaric image.   Taylor and Zavala are two police officers who ride through districts full of plain criminals, drug dealers, gangbangers and full blown killers.   They see, deal with, and fight against IT ALL.  Gyllenhaal and Pena spent 5 months on ride alongs in L.A. and spent more time together developing a friendship that seems life long on the big screen.

Watching these two young men bicker, joke around, work together and contemplate the next stage of their life or day never feels or looks like two actors playing roles.  The acting is so brilliant that we forget these are actors playing make believe.  

Gyllenhaal, head shaved and muscled up, is bare knuckle grit personified and Pena is the older ground hungry crime fighter.  There are actors who prepare for a role by spending a few weeks researching a role and then there are artists who become a character.  The latter is on display here, and filling out nearly every scene of the movie, Gyllenhaal and Pena are relentlessly sharp.

Ayer throws everything at your eyeballs and ears here.  Taylor starts recording his day job with a camera for his filmmaking class, and before long, everything in the film is shot with a handheld camera shaking around as if you are being pulled along by horses with camera lens for eyes.  Its a style that is overdone in Hollywood, but Ayer’s use of it is so strictly for the craft and to elevate his storytelling that you pleads for more of it.  You want to be right there for the action.  We are riding along with Taylor and Zevala as they fight crime, do good and try to make it out alive.

Ayer has made a living out of writing scripts about corrupt cops(Training Day, Dark Blue) or souls gone bad(Harsh Times), but here this story deals with real true blooded cops who are trying to keep the streets clean.   Scenes with the two leads going into houses finding a broken up human trafficking site, execution rooms, or finding a pair of parents hiding their children for protection. As you watch this movie, you hope half of it isn’t true, but knowing Ayer, the realism exists more than you think.

The movie is sensational.  Watching it, you find pure enjoyment and energy following these officers and the payoff, a final extended gun battle between the two cops and a drug cartel, is fiercely unpredictable.  There is an ode to the hard work and dedication of police officers at the end, how wives and husbands becomes part of the large family of cops.  It’s a credit to Ayer that we don’t know if the men will make it out of the film alive.  He treats every part of the film like an ordinary shift.

When I think of cops, I think of soldiers on the ground level fighting to keep people safe.  The bad apples of corruption are everywhere, but here Ayer reminds you that there are twice as many honest soldiers fighting as there are bad souls.   The supporting cast is flawless as well.  Grillo(The Grey, Warrior) turns in fine work as the police captain.  Kendrick and Martinez make believable dual sided women in Taylor and Zevala’s lives, and Ferrera(Ugly Betty, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) is in disguise as a strong female officer.

End of Watch is David Ayer’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker, and this film will represent his skill set coming into completion.  The movie is a dedication to cops who lay their lives on the line every shift that they take, every minute they put on the uniform and wear a badge and carry a gun.  As Gyllenhaal narrates in the beginning, “We bleed like they do, but if they shoot at us, we will shoot at them.  We are the police.  We fight back.”  End Of Watch is one of the best movie of 2012 because it pulls zero punches, produces authentic characters and moments, and delivers a true dedication to the men and women police officers serving us one shift at a time.

Don’t walk into this movie wanting a good time.  Get ready to be blown away and have a hypnotic spell cast on your soul.

Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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