‘End of Watch’ proves more than cop flick

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From surveillance footage to dashboard camera close-ups, writer and director David Ayer gives audiences a 360-degree view of two young Los Angeles Police officers in his cop drama “End of Watch.” Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Brian Taylor and Michael Pena as his partner Mike Zavala “End of Watch” is an intensely gruesome, yet humorously, humanizing portrayal of the LAPD and the sacrifices made by officers and their families in order to uphold the law.

The film opens in the best way possible — with a car chase through the cramped alleyways of South Central Los Angeles. Gyllenhaal narrates the opening sequence declaring, “I am fate with a badge and a gun.”  What starts off as a testosterone-driven shoot-‘em-up, however, eventually proves itself to be much more.  “End of Watch” is part cop drama, part cartel thriller and a very large part buddy comedy.

Taylor and Zavala, after a brief suspension due to an on-the-job homicide, are reassigned to patrol the dangerous streets of Section 13 in South Central LA. The best parts of the movie are the scenes of Pena and Gyllenhaal ragging on each other in the patrol car or mouthing off to their superiors at crime scenes. The natural on-screen relationship between the actors resonates throughout the film, providing emotional authenticity and adding to the realism created by the faux-found-footage technique. When asked how Pena and Gyllenhaal performed their banter so well, Natalie Martinez, who plays Zavala’s wife Gabby  answered, “They spent a lot of time building that relationship.”

“We partied a couple of times!” Pena added. He also commented on the adlib nature of the script, saying, “Ninety-eight percent of it was written. We rehearsed, like, an insane amount … to me, the best kind of acting feels like adlib.”

Among scenes of witty repartee the officers manage to get some real work done. Out on a routine run, the young cops “pull on the tail of the snake” when they unexpectedly expose the human-trafficking operations of a notorious Mexican cartel. After they confiscate two of the three main “food groups” (guns, money and drugs) from a member of the same cartel, the head in Mexico issues a hit on the partners.

What ensues is several dirty attacks on the LAPD, all shot by the characters themselves on handheld cameras, infrared surveillance footage, and camera phones. These cameras pick up scenes of child abuse, human trafficking, and horrific murder and body mutilation.  The violence is hard to stomach, especially for the Taylor and Zavala, who become increasingly disenchanted with the their line of work. They gag, they cuss and they turn towards family as the shock of it all becomes too much to handle. The end result is an intrusive and uncomfortably close look at the gruesome day-to-day of inner-city police officers. When asked about how much of the script was inspired by the real LAPD, Martinez was quick to answer, “The whole thing!”

“Yeah, it was inspired by a lot of LAPD guys and all their stories,” Pena said. “I went on so many ride-alongs. I’d be using the lingo and I felt really proficient holding a gun.”

“End of Watch” is reminiscent of several cop dramas, most notably Paul Haggis’ “Crash” (2004)  in its portrayal of crime and racial tensions in Los Angeles. However, the novelty of the film’s innovative found-footage cinematography and the stars’ dynamic performances differentiate “End of Watch” from all other crime dramas, presenting a refreshingly raw portrayal of the harsh realities of the LAPD.

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