Street Fight of ‘End of Watch’ Adds in Deep Emotion

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Average: 3 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – In the genre known as the cop movie, there are expectations. There will be street evil, informants, ride-alongs and camaraderie. What is surprising and welcome in “End of Watch” is how it takes all those elements and expands them with an emotional link between the cop partners, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.

They are soldiers in a war, the “thin blue line” between the anarchy of South Central Los Angeles and the rest of the world expecting protection from that anarchy. Writer/Director David Ayer uses a point-of-view style with new camera technology that puts the viewer inside the squad room, running on the street and with an in-the-police-car eye in pursuit of the criminals. It is gritty, adventurous and incident oriented, more so than many of the so-called action movies. The authenticity and the probability of the film’s action – combined with the emotional content of two cops and their families looking out for each other – create an atmosphere that feels like highly dramatic realism.

Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) are loyal police partners who recklessly protect the harsh streets of South Central Los Angeles. They are brothers in this recklessness, sticking their necks often beyond the call. Zavala is a soon-to-be-father and Taylor is a single, over-educated man in blue who begins a street documentary as a college project. Strapping on cameras, as well as the arsenal necessary to survive, the two cops work the beat.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña
On Patrol: Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) in ‘End of Watch’
Photo credit: Open Roads Films

Two events change their lives starkly. A seemingly normal domestic call turns into something more, and both a Mexican drug cartel and Homeland Security put the duo into their radars. Eventually a hit is ordered by the cartel against the officers – unbeknownst to them – and their penchant for follow-up is now a game changer. When Taylor starts getting serious with his new girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick), suddenly the street fight takes on a more personal tone.

Gyllenhaal and Peña create a partnership that is so natural, that combined with the streetwise screenplay by director David Ayer seems more like a documentary than a fiction. The chemistry is palpable in the quieter moments, when actual friendship is contained in the simplest and routine activity. When the action is blazing, they are like knights of the realm, protecting the territory along with each other. It is a reminder of the cop relationships when “Hill Street Blues” was at its peak, but “End of Watch” achieves the bond in less than two hours.

There are also a couple of interesting influences in the film that sets it apart from other cop movies. In the post 9/11 world we live with the notion of Homeland Security, but we’re not exactly sure what is encompasses. It was very intriguing to add this ingredient to the cop’s lives, they were as confused as we are about the role and jurisdiction of law enforcement in a new age. Also in the background was the military. Taylor was an ex-Marine who had been in country. The background of warrior brothers was paralleled expressly in his relationship with Zavala. His use of battle techniques on the streets of America was also crazy and amazing in context.

There are unusual supporting roles, almost quirky. The Anna Kendrick character in image seems like a potential unlikely partner for Taylor, but somehow that translates into a maturing process for the cop. Natalie Martinez as Zavala’s wife Gabby gives a very funny message on how to keep a man. America Ferrara adds different shades to the role as a proud police rookie. And throw in a protective Frank Grillo as Sarge and David Harbour as a cynical street veteran, and the narrative has a dramatic potential that resonates.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña
Street Life: The Partners Investigate in ‘End of Watch’
Photo credit: Open Roads Films

The “R” rating of the film allows for flamboyant and violent street battles. The cartel drips a casual evil that is more believable than comic book villains. The hand-to-hand living room fight between Zavala and a street thug is more in-your-face than a gun battle, and the follow-up respect from the combatant honors a street code rather than the law, which is cooler. This is a great action-adventure film, with the touch of humanity that makes it all the more accessible.

But in the end it is Gyllenhaal and Peña that are the soul in this representative story of war on the streets of America, which is getting worse every day, like a diseased heart. The blood keeps pumping, but there is always the potential explosion that may break that delicate blue line.

“End of Watch” opens everywhere on September 21st. Featuring Michael Peña, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrara, Natalie Martinez and Frank Grillo. Written and directed by David Ayer. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

Manny be down's picture

"End of Watch"

I kinda like this cop flick it has a lot of action

ziggy one of the best's picture

End of Watch

Its’ was not bad its’ had some nice street fights plus it was enjoyable

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