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(A quick aside before I actually begin this review. I’m on something of a hot streak right now. Long time readers know that they come and go [and occasionally I am forced to watch several awful films in a row] but those times where the blog gods align to increase my cinematic fortunes is always a  delight. This is one of those moments because, counting this review, my last four films have all been either “A”s or “A+”s. It doesn’t get much better than that)

It’s hard to make a good cop movie/show. Ignoring for a second that the greatest television program of all time (and arguably the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced) is the cop drama The Wire (although obviously that show is much more than just a cop show), just think about how many terribly mediocre procedural crime dramas fill up the time between advertisements on TV. The CSIs, the NCISs, the endless Law & Order spin-offs. And for every Training Day or Rampart, you get thirty lame Steven Segal films or something with Michael Bay attached to them. So, when I say that 2012’s sleeper hit, End of Watch, is the best cop movie I’ve seen since Training Day, it should mean something.

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End of Watch is reminiscent of the similarly “bro-mance” heavy and intimate military indie, The Messenger, although rather than focusing on the day to day lives of two soldiers whose job is to inform family members of the deaths of their loved ones, End of Watch peeks into the lives of  two cops in the LAPD serving in some of the roughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Brian Taylor (Brokeback Mountain‘s Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are both shining examples and stark subversions of the “Cowboy Cop” trope. Brian is a pre-law college student who is filming his daily shifts (and regular life) with his partner Mike. Mike is happily married with his first child on the way while Brian is just starting to date Janet (Anna Kendrick) as the film begins. And Brian and Mike’s lives take a turn for the worse when their cop heroics put them on the bad side of a powerful Mexican cartel that will stop at nothing to get revenge.

A common complaint people have had about the film is that it is sort of formless and “plot”-less, but honestly that was one of the most appealing parts of the film for me. It’s not meant to be a story intensive film (at least not until it’s shocking and explosive finale), and it’s rather meant to be a serious (though often intentionally comic) character drama, and in that regard, the film is a resounding success. My dad turned to me half way through the film (which he enjoyed although not as much as I did) and said “Son, you’re probably enjoying this a lot more than me cause of the dialogue.” And he was right. As Brian and Mike bond through car rides, quincineras, shoot-outs, and other turns in their personal life, you feel like you really get to know these two, and writer/director David Ayer paints a fully-realized and sympathetic (but also honest) portrayal of two men just serving their duty in the LAPD.

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Anyone who’s seen Brokeback Mountain knows that Jake Gyllenhaal is more than just a pretty face (can I say that as a straight man? who gives a sh*t). He is a talented actor that is able to delve into depths of sensitivity that few of his male compatriots his age can (Heath Ledger was an early peer obviously but he’s gone now). And while End of Watch certainly isn’t one of his most challenging roles, Gyllenhaal certainly rises to the occasion. Michael Peña was the film’s pleasant acting surprise. He’s gotten a ton of smaller (and occasionally larger) parts throughout the years ever since exploding in Crash, and End of Watch reminds me why this man should get more roles. He had better comedic chops than Gyllenhaal and was able to keep pace during the dramatic moments. In fact, Peña’s very expressive face captured possibly more of the inner turmoil yet iron courage that defined these two men than Gyllenhaal could. Here is a man that needs to be a bigger star.

I usually think of the found footage genre as being something primarily used for horror movies (Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, etc) not something that you see in serious dramas, but David Ayer makes it work. The film is told almost entirely either through the cameras that Brian and Mike have placed on their chests, a handheld camera that Brian uses, their squad car’s official camera, as well as cameras held by other characters such as antagonists. It really places you right into the heart of the film’s action and you feel like you’re riding along with these two knuckleheads on one of their patrols and when the film swithces into a first-person mode, it really ups the tension to nearly unbearable levels. My only complaint about the film are the moments that seem to violate the pattern of only using footage that someone else is filming. It draws you out of End of Watch‘s universe.

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I watched this movie Friday night and I haven’t had a chance to review it til now. I just went to the doctor today after my health more or less disintegrated over the weekend at work. I developed a terrible cough and I completely lost my voice. Turns out that I have bronchitis and a sinus infection. A real double whammy that has been a lot of fun. So, when I haven’t been working these last couple of days, I’ve been resting. I’m going to keep this review short just because I waited too long to do the review, and I don’t feel like I can do it proper justice. Hopefully, I’ll be getting better over the next week or so and my blogging can stop suffering. What you need to take from this review then is that this is an excellent movie. It joins Perks of Being a Wallflower and Liberal Arts as being one of the best films that I watched from 2012, and I’m not sure if a film has a had a more shocking and brutal ending in recent years than this excellent crime drama/thriller.

Final Score: A

 

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