Film Review: ‘End of Watch’ establishes street’s-eye-view of police work

Film Review: ‘End of Watch’ establishes street’s-eye-view of police work
Michael Peña (left) and Jake Gyllenhaal star as police offers in “End of Watch.” Photo by Scott Garfield

Keep your eyes peeled and watch your partner’s back at all times, because “End of Watch” renders all cinematic preconceptions about cops ineffective and pinpoints what it truly means to apprehend suspects in the name of the law. 

With the police being such a highly visible and necessary component in the fabric of society, officers of most every ilk have been portrayed on the cinematic screen.

When we see police in the movies we’re given portrayals of the fictionalized hardboiled cop, the buddy cop or crooked cop; the action hero cop, leaving out the “everyday cop” working the beat.

“End of Watch,” does not adhere to this rule of thumb, opting for a street’s-eye-view of police work we know happens on a daily basis, though can hardly get to understand or hopefully experience.

LAPD officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) patrol the neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles on a daily basis, helping civilians and trying to keep order in the gang-riddled region.

They quickly garner attention from a resident drug cartel after discovering and confiscating his sizeable cache of weapons and money. As dedicated as these cops are to upholding the law, these hardened criminals will stop at nothing to ensure the continuation of their illegal activities, going so far as to exact revenge against the two officers.

There was not a minute in this film that I felt out of touch with Gyllenhaal and Peña. The dynamic between them has a seamlessness that extends out to the way they drive their police cruiser to the way they carry themselves in their uniforms.

Writer and director David Ayer employs a striking use of camerawork, uncommon to many films revolving around the police.

The use of dashboard cameras, surveillance monitors and hand-held camcorders introduces a caliber of verisimilitude that establishes a much more personal connection between the audience and the police officers carrying out their duties.

I, for one, found this cinematographic approach to be very helpful in understanding the world through a cop’s perspective, whether it’s during a high-speed action sequence, an exchange of banter, or a quiet moment with loved ones.

While the shaky quality and grainy appearance can be jarring at times, it adds to the implication that these cops are real human beings and not larger-than-life icons.

The one complaint I have against the film is the drug cartel element, and I’m not referring to their portrayal.

Sure, we see some of the cartel members open fire on a street gang, face off against the cops at, discuss their plans for retaliation against the two officers, but their few scenes do not even out against the screen time of their law-abiding counterparts.

Never before have I seen a police officer’s world in a more up close and personal manner than in “End of Watch.”

If you’re interested in getting to know how cops operate either on patrol or at home, and are looking for more from than the all-too fictionalized versions of law enforcement, then now is the time to set out for the nearest theater and observe the law.

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