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 March 29, 2015
For a lot of Hollywood, making a kids movie translates out to making essentially a mobile: a simply distracting mix of color and sound. And that's how you get "Home," another manic Sweet Tarts-colored whizbang to be mentally tossed away like an empty popcorn bucket as soon as the film lets out. Yes, the kids will be sated. For anyone older, however, the cue to leave "Home" to go home likely won't come soon enough.
Published March 26, 2015
By most definitions, director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's "Dune" to the big screen in the mid-'70s was a failure. The filmmaker's furiously inventive and imaginative movie never made it to the big screen, but man ... what a trip it would've been, at least certainly judging by Frank Pavich's hypnotically fascinating documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune," showing tonight at 7 p.m. at the UWM Union Theatre.
Published March 25, 2015
I'm starting to get concerned about Jack O'Connell. First there was "Starred Up," in which he plays a violent prison inmate; then he starred in the two-hour beatdown-palooza that was "Unbroken." And now there's "'71," which doesn't even get five seconds in before it's punching O'Connell in the face and dragging him through mud. If he insists on essentially self-flagellating on screen, though, at least it's in the service of a quite good movie.
Published March 25, 2015
2015 is shaping up to be a world tour of beloved classic rock stars. The Rolling Stones are expected to announce a Milwaukee stop ... at some point. Ringo Starr is heading to the Riverside in October, the same month The Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Also celebrating 50 years of existence: Pink Floyd, hitting the Riverside stage Thursday and Friday night. Well, kind of - in the form of tribute band Brit Floyd.
Published March 23, 2015
If "Divergent" was like "The Hunger Games" took a brick to the head, then "Insurgent" plays like "The Hunger Games" got lost in a brick hail storm. The sequel doubles down on the idiocy, incoherence and creative kleptomania the first film struggled through. Part one made it palatable; part two makes it laughable.
Published March 21, 2015
Early on in the 2014-15 season, the Milwaukee Rep staged "The Color Purple." It's a show actress Felicia P. Fields knows very well; after all, her turn as Sofia in the Broadway musical scored her a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical back in 2006. It's another familiar show, however, that brings Fields back to Milwaukee: "Low Down Dirty Blues," a celebration of classic blues at its deepest and dirtiest.
Published March 21, 2015
Vampires have gotten a bad rap over the last decade or so,but while the recent vampire trend has provided some pretty craterous, sell-out lows, it's also spawned a fair amount of impressive highs for the notorious neck-nibblers. For example: "What We Do in the Shadows," a hilarious New Zealand import that gushes goofy laughs like a comedy hemophiliac.
Published March 19, 2015
The Uptowner was packed and not just for a late Sunday afternoon. Jock Jams blared from the speakers, and anticipation was in the air. On two TVs at separate ends of the bar, the Wisconsin-Michigan State game was coming down to the wire. But that wasn't the contest the excited and eager crowd was here to see. No, the main event was the Uptowner's third annual beard competition.
Published March 19, 2015
"Run All Night" has little interest in just simply delivering B-movie thrills; it wants to be taken seriously. It wants to be a drama about men - about fathers and sons, about the family we choose and the family we're stuck with - and sins and regrets. Unfortunately, more just results in less in "Run All Night," with the dour drama and B-movie action combining to make a movie that feels more like "Amble All Night" or perhaps "Dawdle Through Dusk."
Published March 17, 2015
Days before the Rolling Stones are expected to announce some concert related news, a Beatle beat them to the punch. The Riverside announced this morning that famed Beatles drummer, Mr. Conductor himself Ringo Starr is coming to Milwaukee in October to play the Riverside Theater.