End of Watch

Today I was lucky enough to see End of Watch a good five weeks ahead of its UK release on 23 November – thanks to the London Film Festival. Not only that, it also gave me the opportunity to catch up with friends and movie blogging chums. This is what a festival should be all about: excellent (one hopes) movies and friends to share them with and mull them over with a drink. The day would have been wonderful even if End of Watch had disappointed. How brilliant, then, that the film exceeded all my rather limited expectations.

My Jake Gyllenhaal fan-status is hardly a secret (a handy juncture at which to insert a Wet Dark and Wild link) but neither is my unease with films that include what I consider excessive amounts of violence or swearing. I am English, after all. When I heard that Jake was to appear in David Training Day Ayer’s latest gritty LA cop drama I did not hide my fears. Apart from horror, which I can’t cope with in any shape or form – at least while staying conscious, American police dramas are right up there among movies that I would never bother with or possibly even be aware of. But having written about End of Watch since its conception, I had to see it, fully aware that I could hate it. And if I did, I would say so in no uncertain terms.

To compound matters, End of Watch also incorporates another irritation – handheld cameras. The Found Footage genre is one I needed no more of after the excellent Troll Hunter.

What I got with End of Watch was a peculiar mix of what I was expecting but presented in an astonishingly original fashion. The cameras worn by Police Officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) supported the story, making no attempt to steal it. The story itself, of two young LA cops trying to keep the peace in a neighbourhood set on tearing itself apart, is told through the affectionate banter between Taylor and Zavala, often rude and offensive as banter will be between two men who are as brothers, as they patrol the dangerous streets of LA. They joke about their race (one is white, one is Mexican), their families, their sex lives, their colleagues and their hopes for their children. You will laugh and smile with them. We see their women – Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez – and we witness their bravery under fire. Literally.

Unfortunately for Officers Taylor and Zavala, these streets are at war. Black and Hispanic gangs fight for control of the neighbourhood’s narcotics and when Taylor and Zavala stick their noses where they’re not wanted that’s it. They will be hunted. All the time, we follow these two cops on patrol, into their homes, their parties and their marriages and always smiling with them, feeling warm for them, sharing their fear. They’re such brave men but they’re also normal and immensely likeable. Thanks to the cameras they hold, we know them even better than we would otherwise.

The screening I went to featured subtitles (this was a special festival screening with subtitles for the deaf) and, to be honest, I was rather grateful for them. With almost every other word an expletive, the others rushed by so fast it was hard to make sense of the talk, especially when it came from the cartel. I don’t like excessive swearing, largely because it becomes meaningless through overuse. This film did prove the point and I didn’t care for it. I know cops and drug dealers and murderers swear; it’s not necessary to deafen me with it in a film. End of Watch also has moments of extreme violence and gore. While it didn’t reach the levels of Drive – when I had to coincide toilet breaks with head smashing – there were moments when I couldn’t look. There were other moments when, if I had eaten anything more than Haribo sharks, I would have thrown up. But this is just me – I am a sensitive soul. Other people will no doubt applaud it for its realism.

All in all, though, I was left shellshocked by End of Watch. I half expected a film I wouldn’t want to watch, but what I got was an extraordinarily intimate and human and even gentle portrait of two courageous young officers, both of whom are prepared to put their lives on the line time after time, have families and women who love them, are respected by their colleagues, and have to face the dregs of humanity day in, day out.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are superb in their roles. Superb. Much of the dialogue is improvised and there would have been no movie to speak of if the two actors hadn’t gelled together so completely. So much of the film is funny! And so that makes other parts of the film very hard to take. The movie was filmed in a matter of days, after six months of training and research with the police. The result is a natural, realistic and human portrait of two cops as they go through their watch. Extraordinary. I’ve followed Jake Gyllenhaal’s career for years and with End of Watch he – and Michael Pena – has done something very special indeed.

End of Watch is out in the US already and will spread across Europe from November. It reaches the UK on 23 November. Watch it.

Another perspective can be seen here at Excuses and Half Truthss from Rob who was, I think, about seven rows back and a bit to the left…

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About Kate (For Winter Nights)

Lover of books, lover of movies
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12 Responses to End of Watch

  1. bbmiswear says:

    Wonderful review Kate – I have been so looking forward to your take on this (sometimes very difficult to watch) movie! We agree completely regarding the violent parts being hard to watch but there being so very much more to this film (thankfully). Jake and Michael are simply superb in this film. The swearing didn’t bother me but we’ve already discussed how cultural differences tend to dictate that I think (and you made me laugh at “I am English, after all”)!! I do hope you get to see it again – I’ve seen it 3 times now and I can say that it get’s easier to watch because of knowing where all those difficult parts are and there is a lot going on so it’s nice to pick up more of the smaller details during additional viewings. I must ask if it is typical to have subtitles in a film like this when screening in the UK? Is it because of the sometimes hard to understand accents? It’s obviously not because it’s a foreign language film! I was surprised to hear this but glad it helped you to understand more. Love your plug for Wet Dark and Wild – a wonderful place indeed!! 🙂

    • Kate (For Winter Nights) says:

      Thanks so much, Lisa! Fortunately, there is so much more to the film than that. Such powerful performances and I was surprised how funny it is.I should have mentioned that there were subtitles as this was one of those festival screenings which have subtitles for the deaf and, if you want it, audio description. Will wait impatiently for 23 November when I can see it again.

  2. Dani says:

    Great review, Katie. I agree with everything you said. I am not particularly fond of excessive swearing so that was a little hard to listen to the first time, as was watching some of the more horrific scenes. I , like bbmiswear posted above, have seen it three times now and everything about it is easier to take. Jake did an excellent job. I loved his chemistry with Michael Pena. I have no real complaints about the script. Just one or two “I wonder whys”. I would have liked just a tiny bit more of Brian’s courtship with Janet. I loved the two of them singing in the car. Very cute! I wouldn’t mind riding in a car with Jake Gyllenhaal. 🙂

    • Kate (For Winter Nights) says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Dani! That scene was a favourite for me too. I think Anna Kendrick is wonderful in this.

  3. Sasha Hoyt says:

    Thanks for your review. Out of curiosity – did the movie make it into your personal TOP-3 Jake movies?

    • Kate (For Winter Nights) says:

      Thanks for commenting, Sasha. I think Jake’s performance is right up there with the best of his work, I really do. I would love to see him be nominated for a gong or two for this role. The film itself wouldn’t make it in to my top 3, even though it’s so good, simply because it’s too gory and sweary for me and not the type of film I’d want to watch repeatedly. Brokeback, Zodiac and Donnie Darko is a very difficult Top 3 club to get in to!

      • Sasha Hoyt says:

        Thanks for your reply. I understand your point. I feel the same about Rendition. Douglas is one of my fav. Jake characters but the movie is so depressing that I cannot watch it too often.

  4. Hi Kate! Wonderful review – it captures the viewing experience perfectly. I have to admit that while I have become a bit desensitized to the overuse of profanity in certain movies, the violence in End of Watch was very disturbing, particularly because it is a dramatization of actual episodes in the life of a police officer. How David Ayer managed to balance it with the funny moments is absolute genius. I was leery of the found-footage gimmick as well, but the way it is interspersed throughout the film it not only worked well, it provided a sense of realism that made you love Taylor and Zavala even more. There are lots of things about this movie that are award-worthy.

  5. mermon7 says:

    Thank you Kate for very fine review! Finally I watched it as well! Swearing and violence didn’t disturb me too much, it belonged to that reality. The dialogue was very fast, I had to concentrate on subtitles. I bet I missed some things because of intense, fast reading. Camera work was not a problem for me, I get used to it fast, it made a movie more real. Like Susan said, the balance between funny, warm parts and brutal, harsh was perfect, though I would love to see more Anna&Jake scenes. Mike and Jake were very convincing and real and very much likeable! I can’t wait to see it in the cinema with good quality! 😉

  6. Sheba says:

    Hey there. I finally got to watch End of Watch at the London Film Festival at Vue Leicester square. I just was so happy to get a standby ticket (which I lost shortly after buying it and had a couple cinema ushers retracing my steps looking for it. Luckily we found it as I knew my seat number). There was some doubt as to my viewing pleasure as the shaky handheld camera shots did not appeal at all. I need’nt have worried as it added completely to the whole film firmly placing (or even transporting) you in the centre of the drama/action. It was very easy to fall in love with the lead characters. Michael Pena was so fluid and natural in that role of police officer, so convincing. I’m always impressed with the way he inhabits these roles. Weirdly enough Jake wove himself firmly into the heart of the film. He didn’t overshaddow anyone or standout, he was superb. I was so surprised at the ending, really shocked actually as I wasn’t expecting that at all. I along with many other people were laughing out loud and crying too. A small criticism is that the movie was too short. More family development for both guys were needed. I wanted to see the arguments and make ups, the anxiety of the women for their guys. That said, I cannot wait for its release next month as this is another Gyllenhaal vehicle I can’t wait to ride again and again. Bring on the DVD. Well done David Ayr.

    • I’m so glad you got to see it too, Sheba! The audience I saw it with was very responsive too. I hope it bodes well for an enthusiastic release in November 🙂

      • Sheba says:

        Hiya yes I think word of mouth will give it a push where publicity lacks. Also meant to say the audience burst out in spontaneous applause and whoops at the end. Third time that’s happened to me at a Jake G film screening. There should have been some feedback cards or some sort of voting to help gage audience experience.

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