END OF WATCH. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, and Natalie Martinez. Directed by David Ayer. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong violence and coarse language). 108 min.
This is a surprisingly good American drama about two US policemen, who work the suburban precincts of Los Angeles. The title of the movie takes its name from the way law enforcement in the US describes an officer, who is killed in the line of duty.
Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are police officers in Los Angeles’ Police Department. Taylor decides to film their police activities for a project that he is completing at College. His colleagues back in the department are suitably nervous about his attempts to video crime-in-action.
The movie is basically a series of separate incidents in which officers on the beat go from one encounter to another. Taylor and Zavala “are doing the Lord’s work and making a difference”, and “they are fate with a badge and a gun”. They engage in car chases, shoot-outs, discover dead bodies of tortured people, rescue children from burning buildings, release caged illegal immigrants, and bust drug-traffickers. They are marked eventually for a wipe-out by members of a Mexican drug cartel, after they confiscate money and drugs which they were never meant to find.
The film places the viewer right at the centre of the police action. The video-filming technique used by David Ayer, the director of the movie, provides an extraordinary sense of immediacy to scenes that might otherwise have been impossible to watch. It is not a method that has been employed for novelty. Rather, it is integral to the impact of the movie, and it is used throughout the film. The result is an authentic and forceful movie that shows gritty police-work, and the camera work vividly lends a jerky realism to the action.
The film builds up the sense of unpredictability of police work extremely well, and one never loses awareness of its inherent risks. The violence in the movie, though, is intense, and the language in the movie is very rough. The body scenes are horrific; a policeman gets a knife stuck into his eye; and a thug beats up a policewoman viciously. But throughout it all, the film projects a respect for the bravery and teamwork of the police that emphasises the importance of the support they obtain from each other.
Despite the episodic action of what happens, and the basic lack of an integrative thread, the movie captures the friendship between Taylor and Zavala very well, and develops their relationship sensitively. The friendship between them is totally accepting. In the final shoot-out with the cartel, one of them cloaks the other with his body, and is shot as a result. The tragedy of what ensues is gripping.
Consistent with the moral tone of the bond between Taylor and Zavala, the film places considerable importance on the significance of family. Taylor falls in love with a woman he marries (Anna Kendrick), and Zavala is devoted to his wife (Natalie Martinez) and their new child. Their characters are developed in the kind of film, which usually steers in other directions, and the film endorses positive moral values such as the permanency of marriage, genuine friendship, and personal loyalty.
Taylor is a white Police Officer and Zavala is Hispanic, and their private conversations in their squad car break down the cultural barriers between them. This is a brother-hood movie and the film is scripted excellently to match. Gyllenhaal and Pena give terrific performances as the film’s two main leads.
In many ways, the film unfolds like a documentary. In doing that, it manages to provide an image of life in the police force, just as it seems to happen. At its core, though, it is a moving film about two policemen from different cultures, who are united like “brothers” in working together in dangerous settings. The film projects an unusual level of spontaneity that is highly engaging, and is well worth seeing.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 1st. November, 2012.