'End of Watch' (2012) Movie Review

Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch
Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch
Photo: Open Road Films

My chief concern when I first heard about End of Watch was the pitch that "the action unfolds entirely through footage from the handheld HD cameras of the police officers, gang members, surveillance cameras, and citizens caught in the line of fire." The use of the word "entirely" there is a bit of a lie, and thank God for that. While much of End of Watch is caught on handheld cameras controlled by the characters, writer/director David Ayer doesn't rely entirely on the gimmick and does manage to allow some of the narrative to unfold as would a normal film. I am, however, happy that was the extent of my knowledge about the film as watching the trailer after the fact made me aware the marketing reveals more of the plot than I would have ever cared to know going in.

End of Watch
Grade: B+

End of Watch"End of Watch" is a Open Road Films release, directed by David Ayer and is rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use. The running time is .

The cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn and David Harbour.

End of Watch begins by introducing us to South Central, Los Angeles police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) in pursuit of a suspect that ultimately ends in gunfire and death. The narrative begins shortly after, once the two officers have been cleared for a lawful shooting and are back to work.

Giving you a taste of what you're in for, the opening sequence described above is seen via the dash cam of Brian and Mike's police cruiser. The car swerves around corners and we occasionally lose sight of the action, adding to the intensity once the target is back in sight. Once the story picks up, the first person storytelling resumes via a handheld camera Brian is using for a class on filmmaking he's taking to continue his education. Yes, it's cliche, but a fact of the narrative that's easy enough to overlook. Brian also clips two small cameras onto the front of his and Mike's uniforms, and these two little guys will bring views of the action gamers will be used to once guns are drawn and we're witness to the action straight down the gun barrel.

The action in End of Watch is only part of what makes it so good, a small part in fact, an added extra let's say. I can't tell if it's the fact Ayer decided to use so much handheld photography, the performances or simply the nature of the story, but this is one hell of an authentic feeling drama. Gyllenhaal and Pena were perfectly cast as the two lead officers, Gyllenhaal's character being a little rough around the edges and Pena playing his partner with the infectious smile you can't help but think how great it would be to be his friend.

The camaraderie between the two, however, is the film's largest asset. Brian has virtually no family to speak of, but he's starting a new relationship. Mike has a large family in which Brian is accepted with open arms. The two are brothers, not by blood, but certainly by bond and you get that impression from the outset. They joke like brothers. Tease and protect one another like brothers. In a drunken state they profess their love for one another and while those around them poke fun, it's an honest moment and it has a dramatic impact on your emotions as they step into their professional lives and the dangers of their profession.

We're witness to horrific criminal acts, houses on fire, drugs, guns and more, but the less I tell you the better off you'll be. End of Watch plays like a snapshot into the lives of two police officers, unaware of what's around the next corner and it's best if the audience is in the dark just as much as they are. I compared the film to a video game before, because like a video game you never know what could be in the next room until you turn the corner, but unlike a video game this has the feeling of raw human emotion behind it. You begin to care for the characters putting their lives in danger at every turn and you know if they get shot they don't get to hit a "Reset" button.

Gyllenhaal and Pena are outstanding, but largely it's Gyllenhaal's character that runs the gamut of emotions involving his new found love for his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), his occasional cowboy behavior, his naivete, his compassion for Mike and just his overall sense of humor and personality. This wouldn't have worked, of course, without Pena's contributions, a character with a wife he loves and a completely different personal life than Brian's, but the two compliment each other so well it works out perfectly.

Kendrick is a great addition as Brian's girlfriend as are additional members of the supporting cast including David Harbour ("The Newsroom"), as the frequently angry officer Van Hauser, America Ferrera and Cody Horn (Magic Mike) as a pair of hardened female officers and Frank Grillo as Brian and Mike's sergeant.

End of Watch is going to attract scrutiny with critics likely to target its narrative conceit. Would a Los Angeles police officer really carry around a video camera? Would he actually attach cameras to his uniform? The answer to this is, likely, no, but for me that was an easy hurdle to get over. However, I hope filmmakers learn you can still present a similarly raw and intense picture with several of the same shots without having to use the characters as camera operators.

Overall, End of Watch is a raw, intense and emotionally thrilling cop drama with solid performances and a narrative that keeps you intrigued throughout. You're invited into the lives of these two police officers and get to know them, those close to them and other members of the police force on a level you become invested in their well-being. I certainly recommend it as a film to check out in theaters and one I'll certainly be looking to watch again on Blu-ray.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/G-Man/ G-Man

    Fantastic. Thinking I'll check out this weekend. I get a "Training Day" vibe with this.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Excellent, really excited for this one. I do wonder though about David Ayer as he is a very talented director and he seems to have pigeon-holed himself into just one genre (cop dramas), i really hope he starts to diversify soon as would be interesting to see some range from him.

    • Scott

      For the many directors without broad name recognition, I wonder how much of it is the director choosing the same genre, and how much it is the studio entrusting them only with a genre that they've already proven themselves in.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

        You make a good point but I think David Ayer is a different case since he actually writes the majority of his directed movies too.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Excellent review, Brad. Glad you liked it, makes me more excited. again this is one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Again, I like Gyllenhaal, Pena & Kendrick a lot. Also a fan of Ayer writing one of my favorite movies Training Day. I liked Street Kings & Harsh Times. Brad, does Anna Kendrick have a small or big role here?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou

      If I may...Kendrick's role (while not minuscule) wasn't large either. I feel as if Ayer's use of her was complimentary. Recognizing that it was a new relationship for Taylor (Gyllenhall), Ayer did well to 'introduce' her, while not making her a primary player in the film.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

        Ok well thanks! :)

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    I don't know, it almost feels like Ayer keeps trying to find different ways to tell the same story. The whole video camera thing feels like a gimmick and the actual story feels generic. I might check this out when it hits blu ray.

  • http://nktkomarov.livejournal.com/ Nick

    I thought it was a good movie that was really elevated by its climax - without any spoilers, the alleyway scene hit me like a ton of bricks and also made me appreciate the first 90 minutes of the film more. Watching those for the first time, you might not be entirely happy with it being, like you said, a snapshot in the lives of two cops that's light on actual story, but Ayer's decision to substitute characters to the story pays off beautifully in the climax.

    However, if there was one thing about the movie I really didn't like, it's the very ending which I found completely unneeded and so blatantly lacking in subtlety it definitely spoiled the overall picture for me. Still a solid film worth seeing.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou

      It would be hard to discuss my disagreement w/you on the ending w/out spoiling the film for those who have yet to see it. I was shocked / surprised by the next to last scene. I thought it was extremely brave of Ayer to make this decision. W/respect to the final scene, real life isn't wrapped up nicely and evenly. That's why I think a certain person's comments were wrapped up in one sentence. What else could be said? I think he did it right.

      • http://nktkomarov.livejournal.com/ Nick

        I'm guessing you're referring to a one-sentence speech that a certain person makes, but I was talking about the very last scene, a flashback. I agree that the speech was done right.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou

          Oh!!! My bad Nick. I completely misunderstood you. Yep! I can certainly understand your opinion on the flashback (which is indeed the last scene.) Immediately upon hearing / watching him tell the story I thought: "This seems rather crass." However, I gave the actors and the director a pass because he was simply being true to life. Some of our funniest / best memories aren't something that are necessarily classy or tasteful, that's inevitably why they are funny. I think he was also attempting to rescue the audience from leaving the theater depressed.

          I'm treading on thin ice here as I don't want to spoil the film for others. But I certainly understand where you're coming from.

          • TheSattyD

            I agree I think he didn't want people to leave feeling down and then disliking the film. Pretty much you just became friends with the two during the film and you are left with one good/funny last memory instead of a somber one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou

    Brad - Fine job on writing the review w/out giving up the queen's jewels. I read your review as I was eating lunch right before the film. One of the better all-around movies I've seen in years.

    The film did its main job and that was to entertain. Many emotions (of the audience) were culled by Ayer's efforts here - laughter, sadness and contemplation of real world issues affecting America's southern border today in conjunction w/the daily life of a cop. While, I don't know if real cops could actually deal w/that much action in such a short span of time is believable, it takes nothing at all away from the film.

    I was really impressed w/Ayer's attention to detail. Case in point was the classification marking embedded in the grainy NVG recording of the cartel. If he (and the production team) took the time to research / learn about how those are properly used, then I would make the assumption that he did his homework on all aspects of the film, and I believe 'that' is why the movie comes across as intelligent and genuine.

    The first-person camera effects take away nothing from the film at all. They are hardly noticeable and actually enhance the intensity of what transpires throughout the entirety of the movie.

    Cast selection was spot on! The story is fresh and up to date. I've told many of my friends if they're not doing anything tomorrow night and are interested in seeing the movie, I'd go w/them and see it again. It's that good!

  • darkknightfan1225

    I am a cop. The cameras clipped to their shirts are definitely something they would do. You can get them on any police uniform and equipment website.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I question whether they would actually do it, not could they. In the film the rest of cops frown on what Brian is doing, would it not be a very big deal in real life?

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou
      • darkknightfan1225

        If you are a good cop then having the camera clipped to your shirt or the dash of your cruiser is an excellent thing to have. The images don't lie in court. I will have a dashcam in a couple months and my clip on camera for my shirt is en route to me now. Like I said, if you do your job and follow protocol the camera is a huge help.

      • Drew Sandoval

        MAybe it is overkill in this convo now, but my good buddy is with the LA Sherrif's dept, and he wears one of those clip-on cameras. He does it so there is always a record of what when down when something goes down. I don't think they are required to wear it, but he follows all the rule and has seen good calls get second-guessed and turned back on people. So he wears it to protect himself.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/cradleman/ Jonathan

    Just got back from seeing this. Your review is terrific and i agree with pretty much everything except the grade.

    I thought it packed a really good emotional punch, the ending has you on the edge of your seat and it is acted absolutely superbly by all involved. Loved the fact that it has both a normal movie narrative while adding snapshots into not only their daily lives but also into other parts of their job that essentially remain separate.

    Considering that i was wary about actually going into this (considering that found footage films, as a general rule, tend to suck) it far exceeded my expectations and is definitely one of my favorite films of the year. I'd give it an A, even despite some of the narrative hangups because of the handheld camera aspects. Really solid movie.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou

      Another aspect of the film that is cool is Ayer's (recognizing his upbringing in South Central) reaching back a bit for the music. Public Enemy, 2007? LOL! Great move! Intro song is called: Harder Than You Think. I felt pretty silly not knowing that song, especially because it's catchy as hell. Downloaded as soon as I left the theater. Overall soundtrack is good.

  • Nosgoth1979

    The handheld camera gimmick is actually what kept me from seeing this in the theater. The shaky camera stuff on the big screen makes me a bit nauseous. I can handle it on smaller screens though, and after reading your review, I think I’ll go ahead and put End of Watch in my Blockbuster @Home queue. DISH’s Blockbuster @Home is a great subscription rental service with a huge selection of movies and video games. And the best part is, since I pay the same every month, no matter how many movies and games I may go through, it’s factored into my budget so I don’t have to worry about my spending getting out of control.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ducard/ Ducard

    Finally caught up with this movie & glad I did. This is definitely a Grade A film. It is also the best "cop movie" I've since "Training Day" with performances to match --maybe not quite Denzel, but very close. Gyllenhaal & Pena are outstanding. They make riding along with them a blast. We really care what happens to them & the people around them.
    The hand held POV hasn't been used this well since Paul Greengrass last directed a film or "The Hurt Locker".
    (This isn't as relentlessly as intense as "Training Day" & that makes it more fun to watch. Don't get me wrong, TD is an great film, but I hated it the 1st time I saw it because I wasn't prepared for Denzel's Oscar deserving work.)