End of Watch: “Not A Typical Cop Movie”

Michael Pena (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal (R) star in End of Watch, in theaters tomorrow, September 21, 2012

When I walked out of the theater after End of Watch, I had that feeling I love, that feeling I go to the movies for and hope to experience every time I throw my bag of popcorn in the trash on the way out. I felt exhausted. Exhausted, because I was so invested in the characters and the plot that I rode the entire roller coaster of human emotions in just two hours.

End of Watch follows two L.A.P.D. cops, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), and their everyday lives patrolling a highly Mexican-American area of Los Angeles. They spent five months training together, going on ride-alongs, getting to know each other, and developing a partnership that is as real on-screen as off. They are smart-asses but still heroic.

Taylor and Zavala talking to an ICE officer

While so many cop movies showcase the dramatic and slightly unrealistic action sequences, End of Watch does best when it shows Taylor and Zavala in their patrol car, talking about things everyone talks about. Life, love, funny stories, etc. It is only possible to believe their heroics after you believe their characters, which you will. From rescuing children from a burning building when the fire department takes too long to arrive to finding children duct-taped in a closet when their crackhead mother calls them in missing, Taylor and Zavala are real and honest throughout.

I was worried about feeling nauseous when I learned it was shot documentary-style, but the filming was carried out really well. It begins with Taylor explaining that he is filming for a class he’s taking for a Pre-Law degree. There are cameras on his and Zavala’s uniforms, a hand-held he carries around, and cameras in the patrol car. It feels as though you are on a ride-along with Taylor and Zavala, so much so that I was scared walking to my car in the garage and driving home.

While Gyllenhaal and Zavala deliver amazing performances, the movie would not be as real as it was without a great ensemble behind them including bitter veteran Officer Van Hauser (David Harbour), their relentless “Sarge” (Frank Grillo), and the feisty female cop duo, Orozco (America Ferrera) and Davis (Cody Horn).

It would also not be as real a story or performance for Gyllenhaal and Pena had they not been supported by their on-screen significant others, Gabby Zavala (Natalie Martinez) and Janet Taylor (Anna Kendrick). Upon watching this film, you realize that cops are real people that have to go home after facing horrible things like murders and near-death experiences, and they would not be able to keep going back to work if they didn’t have unrelenting support when they decompress at home.

Zavala and his wife (R) and Taylor (L) at Zavala’s little sister’s Quinceanera

David Ayer certainly outdid himself finally finding and writing a “true cop story.” After Training Day, S.W.A.T., and The Fast and the Furious, Ayer said this is “not a typical cop movie,” and he wasn’t kidding. He fashioned Taylor and Zavala after two of his good friends who are cops, and it ended up being a great idea.

Anyway, End of Watch is the best movie I’ve seen all year and the best cop movie in years. It is incredibly visceral and real, so prepare to leave the theater exhausted but fulfilled.

    • Layne
    • September 20th, 2012

    I loved the movie!

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