Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne

Review: End of Watch a superbly acted cop drama with visceral and emotional realness

Posted by Max Lalanne on September 21, 2012

In writer-director David Ayer‘s End of Watch, the cops at the center of this engaging, surprisingly good slice-of-life drama set in the violent, tough South L.A. area aren’t rogue vigilantes or morally questionable or corrupt or even dealing with the latter in the system. These arguably “bigger” and certainly more cinematically tired themes are of no interest to this movie, which focuses on a pair of LAPD self-described “ghetto street cops” (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) as they cruise around in their black-and-white and generally are allowed to behave much like normal, relatable human beings who happen to be putting their life on the line every minute.

Trouble, of course, starts piling up when the hotshot and effective duo messes with a local Mexican cartel toting fancy gold-plated AK-47s and plenty of tattoos, scowls, profanity-laden tirades, and abundant nastiness to go around.

However, there really shouldn’t be any doubt that the real attraction at the center of End of Watch is not the actual crime-fighting but the perfectly cast Gyllenhaal and Pena, those marvelous two with the great, authentic chemistry that amounts to moving, deceivingly powerful and simply believable acting. They pay homage to police officers everywhere without making it seem so, and give lifelike performances that don’t seem like performances at all.

But by many accounts this film doesn’t look or sound or feel like a Hollywood movie most of the time and the visuals do much to help in that matter, certainly — much of the nitty-gritty, you-are-there sensibility comes courtesy of cinematographer Roman Vasyanov‘s use of almost perpetually shaky cameras that the lead actors’ characters (and various gangmembers too, mind) carry around attached on their lapels or mounted on the cruiser dashboard and so on. And they’re always on.

I didn’t find this unusual, if well utilized, shooting method particularly tiring or gimmicky, but for those who are naturally wary of these sort of new “tricks,” rest assured that halfway through the film more conventional angles and techniques start to kick in and eventually nearly replace the entire found-footage-style affair without much noticeable fuss.

Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez are strong in supporting roles as the girlfriend and wife, respectively, of Gyllenhaal and Pena’s characters. [A-]

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2 Responses to “Review: End of Watch a superbly acted cop drama with visceral and emotional realness”

  1. This one kind of came out of nowhere, it seems. I think it’s going to be quite the sleeper hit – really want to see it.

  2. This makes Training Day look like a kid’s film. I feel it’s going to a type of modern classic in the future.

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