Police dramas are a dime-a-dozen in most entertainment mediums. Television is loaded with them and has been for thirty years. The New York Times Bestseller list is usually dominated by them. And, of course, cop films are a favorite of Hollywood. The popularity of the buddy cop genre, thanks to the Lethal Weapon films, has led to dozens of imitators to varying effect. Most of these glamorize the police lifestyle or throw aside reality to provide entertainment. Every once in a while, though, we see a movie like End of Watch that asks us to look at policemen from a variety of angles, not just a heroic lens.
Jake Gyllenhall plays Brian Taylor, a beat cop with the LAPD partnered with his best friend Mike Zavala (Michael Pena). The two wind up learning too much about a cartel and become the target of their viciousness.
Simple premise. And from the outset you can guess what is going to happen. But the movie isn’t traditional in its storytelling. We see everything from body, dashboard, and handheld camera perspectives giving an almost Cops (the television series) like feel to it all. We the viewers are a part of the action in a way I’ve never encountered before. Found footage horror films are a subgenre that we’ve all most likely encountered for good or ill. The idea of applying that to a police film is inventive and interesting, allowing for a close-up and realistic approach to telling what is an otherwise generic and by-the-numbers central plot.
What the found footage reveals are two cops who are best friends and brothers who joke around, tell stories, and are entirely human. They aren’t portrayed as badass, cool, or any other convention. They’re just two humans. And seeing them policing the streets we get a variety of situations that show how tough it is to be a cop. Typically a film like this would have the heroes be above the law or strictly apply it. Here they beat up supposed crooks, they get rowdy when they see something they dislike, they act like dicks. But we also see them heroically rescue children from a burning house and shoot the breeze with local hoods. That multi-dimensional aspect makes the characters interesting, human, and entirely lovable.
Add to that the non-cop footage of dates and weddings, major events in the duos life. It’s an air of humanity that endears End of Watch and forces you to see the police in a different and more sympathetic light.
The acting here is one of the main reasons the film succeeds so well. Gyllenhaal and Pena have such great chemistry and are totally believable as best friends. Given the direction and style on top of the script, it’s hard not to be fooled that the two aren’t real cops and they aren’t ad-libbing every conversation. It’s masterful.
The ending, as I said at the beginning, is obvious, but it hurts still. That’s the sign of a damn good film, when even with a conventional plotline and predictable finale, you still walk away feeling emotional. Because as conventional as the majority of the movie may be, it is entirely unconventional in presentation and delivery.
End of Watch is edge-of-your-seat action and drama from start to finish. Fast moving and full of stellar performances, it’s the type of dark and unique cop film that breathes life into a tired genre and changes your perspective in unexpected ways. Definitely give this one a watch.