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"END OF WATCH"
(2012) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Two L.A. cops, known for taking risks and bending the rules, come across heightened criminal activity they're determined to stop but that puts them in grave danger.
PLOT:
Brian Taylor (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) and Mike Zavala (MICHAEL PENA) are Los Angeles Police Department street patrol officers known for getting the job done, but not without bending some rules and taking some risks. While their unit leader, Sarge (FRANK GRILLO), mostly lets them get away with that sort of behavior, fellow cop Van Hauser (DAVID HARBOUR) warns them that one day it will come back around and bite them, and that the LAPD won't have their back if it does.

Ignoring such warnings, Brian and Mike continue on their way, interspersing dealing with a variety of crimes with talk of their private lives, namely Mike's wife, Gabbie (NATALIE MARTINEZ), being pregnant, while Brian has just started dating Janet (ANNA KENDRICK). While that shows their gentler sides, they still have to be tough with the likes of gang members such as Big Evil (MAURICE COMPTE) and La La (YAHIRA GARCIA), the latter who taunts Orozco (AMERICA FERRERA) for now being a cop.

As they do that, Brian and Mike also run across criminal activity tied to foreign drug cartels. Aware of but undeterred by the dangers of putting their feet in such waters, the two cops don't realize the true ramifications of their actions until it's almost too late.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
One of my favorite shows growing up was "Adam 12," the late 1960s to mid 1970s TV program about veteran Pete Malloy and newbie Jim Reed, two police officers of the Los Angeles Police Department who drove the streets of the City of Angels and dealt with crime and other misdemeanors in a fine, upstanding way. Granted, it was a very sanitized and thus not always one hundred percent accurate portrayal of both the city and such cops, but my-oh-my, how times have changed.

Since then, TV shows and especially movies have shown far more realistic versions of both cops and the bad guys, sometimes including the police offers in that latter category. While there's a plethora of such examples, one of the more notable ones of recent was "Training Day" where Denzel Washington played another LAPD officer -- paired with Ethan Hawke -- who had an oversized "King Kong ain't got sh*t on me" attitude toward his work and the boundaries he pushed in dealing with lowlifes he encountered.

The writer of that film was David Ayer who now returns to the genre -- this time in the director's seat -- with "End of Watch," a gritty, presumably fairly realistic and definitely well-made look at beat cops patrolling the seedier and dangerous sections of L.A. Beyond having penned "Training Day," Ayer also helmed 2008's "Street Kings" (more rule-bending cops), so he's obviously no stranger to this sort of story, which also holds true for many a viewer, whether they've sat through his and/or similar works by others covering the same sort of subject matter.

On its surface, it doesn't look much different than that sort of tale that we've seen countless times before, meaning there's little to no shock value or novelty to the notion of cops who bend and break protocol. But there's just something about the way that Ayer -- who works from his own script -- has put it all together that makes it seem both familiar yet sometimes breathtakingly fresh.

Part of that stems from him utilizing a number of "you are there" camera shots (dashboard cams, surveillance cams, handheld footage, etc.) that do put the viewer into the middle of the action, and some of that is simply stunning. I've seen about a gazillion and a half movies in my lifetime, and while a few occasionally will elicit an emotional response out of me (yes, I'm a hardened critic) very few will create a visceral reaction.

You know, the type where you involuntarily sit forward in your seat, find your heartbeat racing and some sweatiness forming and generally sense a feeling of dread about what might occur next. That happened to me on more than one occasion with this film, partly attributed to the immediacy of the camera work and scene structuring.

But what really sets the film apart -- and which stems from the shooting of those scenes but also the great performances from leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena -- is that we end up feeling like we really know and like the main characters, whatever their flaws and misgivings might be. The chemistry between the two actors is pitch perfect, from the small talk and more introspective verbal moments to the goofing around and joshing to the more physical moments and related peril. While I liked what Washington did with his character in "Training Day," that felt like an inflated movie character rather than the real thing. Here, the two performers create characters who feel more like real life.

With Ayer throwing in a pregnant wife (Natalie Martinez) for Pena's character and a new girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) for Gyllenhaal's (which are realities in the real world but also genre conventions here), their vulnerabilities are exposed even more, thus making them come off as even more human and thus more connected to their audience. Simply put, while the guys might not be perfect, their overall intentions are good and we end up caring a great deal about them and their well-being.

Thus, when they're put in harm's way, such aforementioned visceral reactions are likely to spring up, thus further connecting us to the characters and their actions. Without that, this would have been another gritty but mostly forgettable cop flick that would soon blend in with the rest. But thanks to Gyllenhaal and Pena, the words put in their mouths (and/or any improv they did with the same) and the staging of the overall experience, "End of Watch" ends up being something of a remarkable cinematic experience. It rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed August 27, 2012 / Posted September 21, 2012


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