Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.
David Ayers' "End of Watch" is being acclaimed by cops nationwide as a great police movie, one that finally gets what being a cop is all about. But despite all that acclaim, I was skeptical about "End of Watch" because Ayers' most prominent previous credit was for "Training Day," the 2001 film about corrupt police detectives that scored Denzell Washington an Oscar for best actor.
As a matter of principle, I call "Training Day" the worst portrayal and betrayal of a police department by a major film studio. And as every single LAPD cop portrayed throughout its plot is corrupt, I take enormous pleasure in skewering Ayers' screenplay. Yet, I had to grudgingly give him points for his dialog. His cops spoke in the authentic rhythms of police work and the streets, and I remember thinking, you've got how cops speak down, now if you ever learn how we think, you might have something.
But make no mistake—I found "Training Day" reprehensible. Such was my aversion to the prospect of Ayers profiting by my patronage of "End of Watch" that I considered the possibility of purchasing tickets for another movie and sneaking into "End of Watch" instead. But given the generally favorable take that I had gotten from officers that this film was something decidedly different than "Training Day," I took a leap of faith and plopped down nine bucks for its matinee screening.
And as it turned out, "End of Watch" did not turn out to be "Training Day II."
Chronicling a period in the partnership of Newton patrol Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavilla, the film's first glimpse of the two might lend one to think that they are nothing more than a couple of hard-charging cops that love to kick ass and take names. But the humanity of each man is brought to the fore soon enough and their teamwork together are such that they seemingly comprise a single organism.
If Jake Gyllenhaal's Taylor is its educated core, then Michael Pena's Zavilla is its heart and soul and the actors' chemistry together is the best since Redford and Newman did their thing on the other side of the law in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." I, for one, will be extremely disappointed if either actor fails to receive an Oscar nod for their work (particularly Pena who somehow manages to steal the film without any visible effort).
The thespianship is matched by an androit mix on the film's technical end, with "End of Watch" cleverly intersplicing dash-and cop-cam footage as well as night vision optics with conventional film-making techniques to tell its story. That it does so without inducing epileptic seizures does not mean that the film lacks the capacity to leave you feeling uncomfortable.
Part of that discomfort comes from the suggestion that there are unseen forces working against our heroes (Just because Ayers has not put corruption within law enforcement front and center on this go-round doesn't mean he's abandoned the matter). What the ambient environment fails to achieve on that front - which is little; the film captures the sinister nature of contemporary Los Angeles more realistically than even "Colors" did a generation ago - the soundtrack more than makes up for, complementing the film's mood with songs that are no less foreshadowing than its title.
Is "End of Watch" perfect? No. Promiscuous use of creative license asserts itself on multiple fronts, including tactics, the officers' emotional response to situations, and its compacted timeline.
Some have also criticized the officers' attitude toward their sergeant as being unrealistic. But having known quite a few mid-20s "know-it-all" cops—and having been one myself—I can't fault Ayers’ script on this front. It might make the characters a little less likeable, but it also renders them all the more human and credible.
My critiques are, in the grand sum of things, nits. "End of Watch" is from start to finish undeniably entertaining, and on those occasions when it is on tactically and procedurally sound footing, it transcends any other patrol-oriented film I have ever seen. It also touches on emerging concerns within the law enforcement arena, such as the encroachment of Mexican cartels north of the border and the ubiquitous presence of videotaping on both sides of the legal fence.
If it seems that I have focused on the negative more than the good herein my reasons are two-fold.
First, if I can go back to "Training Day," my grievances against it weren't based upon about its technical issues or its performances. My gripes were about the image the film painted of the LAPD and the possible legacies it saddled on not only that department but other officers throughout the land. In short, I felt that Ayers' heart was in the wrong place when he wrote “Training Day,” and so I campaigned against it aggressively, for the seeming intentions of creators count a hell of a lot in my book.
And while I can still see no positive up tick to "Training Day," I can see quite a bit of good with "End of Watch," so much so that I would hope that cops would take their spouses—and older children, for that matter—to see this film and encourage others to do likewise.
At the same time I don't want cops coming back later and saying to me, "C'mon, man, when that cop drops his Sam Brown and fights that gang member mano-a-mano? What kind of BS is that...?"
So if I mention these things it is because I would like the better aspects of the film to come as a surprise to its viewers. The lower your expectations are—and mine were considerably low—the more you will enjoy the film.
In short, if David Ayers has not mastered how a cop thinks with "End of Watch," it's not been for lack of effort, and despite the thoughtfully provided emotional counter-weight at the end of "End of Watch," it's safe to say that there were damn few dry eyes in the house.
And when was the last time you could say that about a film where cops were the good guys?
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