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 Sept. 26, 2017
The judges had their say last night, but what did we think of Ballroom Night on "Dancing with the Stars" Monday evening? Put on your best Mark Ballas face; it's time for our rankings!
Published Sept. 25, 2017
While we're all assembling our screening schedules, I'd like to do my part in helping you find the cinematic gems, both obvious and obscure, at the Milwaukee Film Festival with my 10 must-see screenings.
Published Sept. 24, 2017
It only makes sense that a city next to one of the biggest freshwater lakes would maybe have what Milwaukee historian John Gurda called "a wet subconscious," a thirst that for many can only be quenched by one beverage: beer.
Published Sept. 23, 2017
Is it possible that, between the Michigan side and the Wisconsin side, one beach is best, that one coast has the most? Or is there just not even a difference between the two shores of Lake Michigan? We chatted to an expert who's lived on both sides.
Published Sept. 22, 2017
Christmas may still be months away, but 'tis the season for saving some cash on tickets to one of Milwaukee's most heartwarming holiday traditions: "A Christmas Carol" at the Milwaukee Rep.
Published Sept. 21, 2017
Audiences' eyes may be glued to the big screen during the Milwaukee Film Festival, but the two-week explosion of cinema doesn't begin and end just there. Here are all the special guests headed to Cream City cinemas during the two-week festival.
Published Sept. 20, 2017
October may be the month of Halloween, but Netflix's freshly announced lineup of new additions is nothing to be scared of. From familiar names to new seasons of Netflix hits, here's everything you'll be watching in October.
Published Sept. 20, 2017
I hope you finished your Netflix binge of, well, pretty much every television show out there, because the streaming service is losing a lot of your favorite TV programs next month. Here's everything leaving next month.
Published Sept. 19, 2017
Monday night's premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" marked the reality competition show's 25th year of existence. But why did this quarter-century extravaganza feel so stripped down? Here are our thoughts on the show - and the dances!
Published Sept. 18, 2017
Gather up your quarters, Milwaukee. Hot off the news of one arcade bar, Up-Down, moving into town, the fittingly named 1983 Arcade Bar also announced its plans to bring a blast to the past to the city.