The general public has a complex relationship with the police. We give them training and weapons to defend the innocent and protect their own safety, and then get upset when they use them. We rely on them to uphold law and order, and then get angry when they pull us over for speeding. We need them to be warriors, but want them to be part social worker, part referee.
No argument is concrete: certainly there are bad cops, or at least ones with poor judgment, but they are a small minority. Most police officers are fundamentally good men and women who are constantly prepared to do things most of us would be afraid to, whether in Halton’s safest community in Canada, the war zones of South Central LA, or anywhere in between. But we’ve seen officers in the news and entertainment media portrayed as corrupt, shifty, or at least highly questionable for so long that it’s become difficult for many not to view the entire group the same way.
That’s why a film like End of Watch comes as a surprise. Indeed the officers in this story are flawed – stubborn, headstrong, impatient, and prone to complaining – but they are all good people doing an impossible job. It seems odd that we should find it a refreshing change from most cop movies, but this is a rare story that honours the police rather than calling them into question.
Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are partners in the most dangerous division of South Central. They’re reasonably typical cops – Taylor is an ex-Marine, and Zavala joined the force early in life to make good on his marriage to his high school sweetheart – but they have a reputation among the others as hot shots. Taylor has decided to outfit them both with cameras as part of his night school project, and we follow them on their rounds and in their private lives as events unfold.
Mirroring the call-to-call nature of the job, the film is mostly episodic, but there is a through-line. Through differing combinations of overreaching ambition and sheer luck, Taylor and Zavala keep running into members of a Mexican drug cartel operating in the area, enough to eventually put their own lives in danger. But while the violence here is plentiful, there are images and discoveries that shock them even more. Armed gang members they’re prepared for – child abuse and human trafficking are something else entirely.
Gyllenhaal and Peña have amazing chemistry, especially when their characters are simply chatting on patrol. There’s a lot of this easy camaraderie – two bored guys bonding on the job while they wait for the next call, the next dangerous situation. It’s where we find these officers at their most human, and these actors do it very well, along with a fine supporting cast. Writer-director David Ayer, a specialist in cop movies, has given them a great script to work with, as well, though his choice of shooting the film as a found footage documentary falls flat. He soon begins cheating, filming longer shots with a handheld camera, before nearly abandoning the concept altogether. It brings little to the film other than a shaky picture that induces vertigo.
End of Watch may not be completely authentic, but it nails enough of the reality and experience of policing that it will surely find its way into many an officer’s video collection. For the rest of us it’s well worth watching too, if only to remind ourselves who’s out there every day, looking out for us.
Tags: movie review