The ending of "End of Watch," the latest gritty L.A. cop drama to come from writer/director David Ayer, completely embodies the film as a whole. Without spoiling anything, itâ€™s filled with viscerally intense action, great emotional moments and terrific real performances. Mixed in with the good, however, are preposterous gunfights, poor directorial and scriptwriting decisions.
Itâ€™s an often frustrating mix, and thatâ€™s just the last fifteen minutes. The rest of "End of Watch" plays the exact same way, with pieces of a brilliant cop movie intertwined with a mediocre one. The final result is something in the middle, a film that somehow exceeds expectations but still feels like it falls short of its potential.
The story focuses on two young L.A. cops, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and "Crash"'s Michael PeÃ±a). The duo patrols the dangerous streets in their squad car, often bantering about their various loves (Taylor is dating a cute woman played by the always adorable Anna Kendrick, Zavala is a committed family man) and brotherly poking fun at one another.
Most of their patrol routes involve taking care of small but tense issues, such as a noise complaint at a gangsterâ€™s house party. However, after a few horrifying but seemingly disconnected finds (most notably a bloody execution room), Taylor and Zavala slowly find themselves getting in too deep with a cartelâ€™s business.
The plot mainly occurs and escalates in clips or at the margins of "End of Watch." The cops themselves donâ€™t really know what theyâ€™re getting into; their discoveries and interference with the cartelâ€™s dubious plans are more a result of coincidence than concerted effort. The execution room, for instance, is only found because the guys are investigating an elderly womanâ€™s late welfare payment.
As a result, the storyâ€™s progression feels a little more natural, but it doesnâ€™t have a ton of momentum. Itâ€™s also easy to get confused about how much time has elapsed (Taylor goes from dating to marriage seemingly in the course of two scenes).
Frankly, while "End of Watch" is sold as a shoot â€˜em up between gangsters and cops, Ayerâ€™s script is more interested in the friendship at the center of the film. Thankfully, Gyllenhaal and PeÃ±a are terrific, sparking a genuine brotherly love on screen. Much of the film consists of the two chatting in their car about life, which couldâ€™ve become grating and dull, but their lively chemistry mixed with Ayerâ€™s authentic script â€“ I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if much of their dialogue was improvised â€“ makes their interactions a pleasure to have access to.
Unfortunately, while Ayerâ€™s screenplay is one of his better efforts (minus a few silly moments, specifically whenever a vicious gangster named Big Evil â€“ because his "evil is big" â€“ uses the F-word like most people use oxygen), his direction shoots "End of Watch" in the foot.
The main problem is the inclusion of found footage into the story. Throughout the film, Taylor is videotaping their daily missions with a handheld camera and some glorified lapel mics. The goal is to gain an even greater sense of intimacy to the main relationship and urgency to the action. However, PeÃ±a and Gyllenhaal already create a natural camaraderie without the gimmickâ€™s help, and the shaky cam only makes the action disorienting.
To make matters worse, Ayer doesnâ€™t even commit to the found footage. Half of the movie is already shot like a regular movie but with a raw handheld vibe (sometimes the carâ€™s dashboard cam is also used). Throughout much of "End of Watch," Ayer switches between the actual film and Taylorâ€™s footage, causing the audience to get distracting trying to figure out whose movie theyâ€™re watching. Itâ€™s a needless element that adds nothing and subtracts the audienceâ€™s ability to get truly immersed into the film.
Itâ€™s upsetting because "End of Watch" does so much very well. The performances are excellent â€“ Iâ€™m not saying Pena should get a Best Supporting Actor nomination since itâ€™s still early, but I wouldnâ€™t argue against it â€“ and the realistic action creates some solid tension. But for every good decision, thereâ€™s another equally bad one (the found footage, the gangster who talks like a profane parody of a gangster, the cop-out ending).
In the end, I can recommend "End of Watch," but considering what it could have been, I wish I could say more.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published May 30, 2016
The Tony-winning musical "Kinky Boots" - coming to the Marcus Center starting Tuesday night - is a bold, bright tale of family, acceptance and fabulousness. For actor J. Harrison Ghee, however, it's a story that goes beyond just the stage.
Published May 28, 2016
Thanks to a duo of Milwaukee dub reggae enthusiasts, dub music has found a very comfortable spot in the local music scene - in particular at the Nomad World Pub, where, in less than a year's time, the two have helped turn Living Dub into a sensation.
Published May 26, 2016
Indeed, the "Saved by the Bell" child star and now Port Washington resident Dustin Diamond was taken back into custody yesterday afternoon by the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office, detained on a "probation violation."
Published May 26, 2016
Get ready for an overload of adorable, as the Milwaukee County Zoo introduced its newest baby giraffe, named Zola - a word of African origin meaning "to love" - to the world.
Published May 26, 2016
Milwaukee Film announced that it will host the world premiere of "Milwaukee 53206," a documentary chronicling the lives of those who live in the 53206 zip code, which has the highest rate of incarceration for African American males in the country.
Published May 24, 2016
A UWM graduation video featuring new grads dancing around Milwaukee to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling" has racked up a ton of views - one of which must've been JT himself, as he took to Twitter to congratulate the new graduates.
Published May 22, 2016
According to Greg Mclean, "The Darkness" comes from a true story passed along to him first-hand. Judging by the results, maybe someone was just recalling the plot of "Poltergeist" to him. Or an infinite number of scarier haunted house tales from before.
Published May 18, 2016
Milwaukee native Bay Dariz's plan was to become a star musician, then turn into a movie mogul. The stage star part didn't quite happen, but no bother; he's already jumped to movie producer status with his feature film debut "Welcome to Happiness."
Published May 18, 2016
Save for a visit from a street-corner preacher, a trip to the bus stop rarely qualifies as a religious experience. However, those taking the bus to or from the Cathedral Square stop on the corner of Wells and Jackson might sense a little extra spirit.
Published May 17, 2016
While it was called "a dialogue," Tuesday's hour-long conversation between State Rep. Dale Kooyenga and MTEA executive director Lauren Baker, hosted by Marquette University's Eckstein Hall, sure resembled a debate - an often politely testy one.