Once upon a time in South Central . . .
This is not just another cop movie.
End of Watch focuses on two cops working in South Central Los Angeles, Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña). These two cops are best friends and sometimes have the antics of teenagers. They like to bulls*** each other. They are also one of most prominent cops in their precinct for what they have accomplished. They do not shy away from danger, even seeking it out. Things get complicated when they start investigating incidents that relate to the Mexican Cartel.
End of Watch is shot in a documentary style using hand-held cameras and cameras attached to clothing. There is also the use of dash cams in the police cars. In the beginning, Brian says he is filming this for a film class he is taking, but not all of the footage seen in this film is something he could have shot. I would not throw this film into the found footage category that is so popular in the past few years.
The shaky cam effect is not overdone and did not make me sick. The story is not told entirely with shaky, hand held cameras, so there are breaks where there are still, conventional shots. I would not deter anyone from seeing End of Watch just based on the style of shooting. If anything, it made the story more personal to the two main characters than a conventional method of shooting a film could. I think it added something unique, and I do not think I would have liked the film as much if this filming style was not used.
The film is not told solely from Brian and Mike’s point of view. There are also parts of the film that focus on a group of African Americans, one of whom gets into a friendly throwdown with Mike. The main enemies are a group of four Hispanics/Latinos that wage a lot of violence in the neighborhood.
End of Watch is not all drama. There is a lot of comedy in the film, mostly coming from Brian and Mike. It makes what could have been a very heavy film, have a lighter side. One of the most memorable parts of the film is when Brian and Mike are talking Quinceañeras and the benefits of having a Mexican wife.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña both bring one of the top performances of their careers in this film. Gyllenhaal’s performance reminded me of his role in Jarhead. Even though the film has a mix of comedy and drama, they both convincingly pulled all aspects of their characters’ roles off. They obviously did enough research on cops before filming to fall into their roles. They do not come off as actors playing cops.
There are also some recognizable actors who fill out the rest of the cast. Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez play the better halves of Brian and Mike. Cody Horn, America Ferrera, Frank Grillo, and David Harbour play their fellow cops. They do not have much screentime, but they do add something to the film.
End of Watch is one of the best cop films I have ever seen. Based on conversations with other film reviewers, I do not think everyone will love it, and arguments have been started over certain elements in the film. That being said, I personally cannot fault it for much of anything. It has great performances, a mix of comedy and drama, and enough violence to make this a great cop film. It also has some heart, letting you really get to know Brian and Mike. This is a film that I would recommend that everyone see, and will be on my list of the top ten films of 2012.
I give End of Watch 5 “Liberaces” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek