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Zimbio Review - Urgent 'End of Watch' Rocks Despite Reality T.V. Look

(Open Road Films | Getty Images)
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?

Despite some ill-conceived conception, End of Watch is intensely violent conveying supreme urgency thanks to the likability of its two stars.
While Hollywood loves to expose the seedy underbelly of corruption within the L.A.P.D. (often truthfully), there are surprisingly few accounts of the noble side of police work in L.A. End of Watch is such a story, a hell of a piece of action filmmaking led by two tough performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, whose endearing friendship adheres you to their common plight.

End of Watch paints a picture that stands in sharp contrast to similar depictions of like units in films like Colors, Boyz in the Hood, Training Day, Hard Times, and Rampart. This is a positive cop tale, told and shot almost wholly firsthand, often frustratingly, with first-person accounts and handheld cameras.

Written and directed by Training Day scribe David Ayer, End of Watch follows Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena), two best friends and partners, as they strive to make a difference in the Newton, one of the toughest police divisions in the country.

Ayer shoots most of the film with shaky handhelds from Brian's perspective (Gyllenhaal actually films certain shots himself). He's taking a film class and wants to document life on the job. The first person P.O.V. is distracting and unoriginal, adding nothing to the already hardened world of the L.A.P.D. This is fast-paced action filmmaking, not The Diving Bell and the Butterfuly. Someone should've taken Ayers off this beaten path. It's obvious he's trying to reflect the times, but he should've thought of his audience.

Thankfully, End of Watch has a lot going for it, balancing out the wobbly cinematography. Gyllenhaal and Pena have big-time chemistry. The emotional depth of their relationship places you firmly in their shoes. Gyllenhaal is especially good when he's let off the leash and allowed to dip into his primal side. As in Jarhead and Source Code, we are treated to a performance of real energy. Gyllenhaal spent months preparing for the role and it shows. He walks and talks like a cop.

Taylor narrates the opening of the film, saying he's "fate with a badge and a gun," and referencing the notion of "a thin blue line." He's an idealist, professionally and personally, searching to make a difference on the job and refusing to settle in his hunt for a woman he can really talk to. Zavala is more realistic, married at a young age, he offers his partner advice whether he likes it or not. Although they're roughly the same age, Zavala acts the old soul which adds depth to their already compelling dynamic.

They are rising stars within the department, lauded when they take down local drug dealers and when they put "cash on the table" (cash, drugs, and guns displayed for a photo op). However, they dig too deep, discovering a run-down stash house containing a grisly murder scene and attracting the attention of the F.B.I. "You and your homeboy need to power down. Cartels are operating here." A tactical team member warns them. The presence of an ultra-violent Mexican cartel in L.A. would seem to turn the table on the ill-equipped officers, but these streets belong to Taylor and Zavala. They'd rather be killed than back off.

End of Watch. (Pacific Coast News)
Ayer juxtaposes the sunlight-drenched California street scenes with shots from the boys' everyday lives. Many of the transitions work, but sometimes the difference is disorienting and rushed. Ayer seems too enveloped in humanizing his subjects by introducing sequences involving their significant others, a Quinceanera, Brian's wedding, and Zavala's new baby. The director might have a more cohesive picture if he concentrated fully on the police work. The best parts of the film include Gyllenhaal and Pena alone in their cruiser, talking, philosophizing, and busting each others' balls. There's more than enough there to get to know and like these two.

End of Watch concludes with a harrowing shootout as the two officers are trapped in a hotel by a small team of shooters hired by the cartel. These gangsters come off a bit forced, especially since their scenes are also shot with handhelds (one of them carries a camcorder) and they refuse to talk normally for even a second. Gone is the authentic gang dialogue of Training Day, replaced here by overwhelming bravado, personified by a female gangster whose non-stop bombast brings her to the edge of caricature.

Nevertheless, The hotel scene is fantastically paced and unnervingly suspenseful. As in Training Day, the end is constantly in doubt as the film seesaws between points of view. The sense of urgency is palpable for our hero cops and Ayer takes you to the edge of your seat in terms of putting them in real danger. He obviously knows the life of a L.A. police officer. Broadened by its fantastic action and admirable characters, End of Watch is a dynamic, slightly messy, tale of real-life heroes.

See more photos of Jake Gyllenhaal:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in "End Of Watch" Hamptons Screening
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Stars on the Set of 'Very Good Girls'
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in "If There Is I Haven&squot;t Found It Yet" Cast Photo Call
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Jake Gyllenhaal Shows His Mom Around the Set
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Jake And Maggie Gyllenhaal Out For A Stroll After Lunch
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal Out Together in NYC
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in A Celebration Of Paul Newman's Dream To Benefit The SeriousFun Children's Network - Show
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in A Celebration Of Paul Newman's Dream To Benefit The SeriousFun Children's Network - Arrivals
View Michael Pena Pictures »
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