End of WatchEvery cop movie that comes down the cinematic turnpike will righteously insist that it's not like other cop movies. Entire marketing teams are dedicated to this task. Alas, most cop movies are essentially the same.
Then there are the outliers: End of Watch, the scary and intense drama new to DVD and Blu-ray this week, truly is a different kind of cop movie. Director David Ayer (writer of Training Day) narrows the focus radically by following two L.A. cops and their day-to-day experiences in a notorious South Central neighborhood.
Jake Gyllenhaal headlines as Brian Taylor, a young patrolman for whom the term "gung-ho" was apparently invented. As conveyed in the film's opening voiceover, Brian firmly believes in the concept of the thin blue line: That a small brotherhood of courageous good guys (with badges) is the only thing standing between a safe society and a murderous criminal class of bad guys.
Officer Taylor's daily experience seems to bear this theory out. Taylor and his partner Miguel Zavala (Micheal Pena, excellent) encounter scene after harrowing scene of violence and despair as rival gangs slug it out for street dominance. End of Watch contains episodes of stunning brutality, so be forewarned: This is a very hard-R movie. When the two squad partners break down one too many doors, they're targeted for bloody elimination by a terrifying Mexican drug cartel.
The film's visual twist is that Taylor carries a handheld camera with him on duty, as part of a community college project. Along with lapel cameras and squad car dash cams, director Ayer uses the handled to deliver much of the film in dizzying close-up. In fact, as the extras reveal, the original plan was to film the entire movie in the "found footage" style of The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity.
The filmmakers eventually chose to integrate traditional photography as well. Good call. The found footage gimmick is too implausible – even the gangbangers have cameras – and the shaky cam effect tends to induce a mild nausea.
Because of the intimate camera work, End of Watch is a hard-hitting, visceral experience. The film doesn't play by the usual storytelling rules of crime drama, either. We never get the Big Picture regarding the drug cartel chasing Taylor and Zavala. The feds are apparently lurking about, but we know only what the street cops know – not much.
The film's unsparing final scenes also cut against the grain of cop movie tradition. Even the bleakest of violent thrillers seldom wander this far off the map. Be sure to check the included alternate endings in the DVD extras to see just how weird Ayers was willing to get.
Gyllenhaal and Pena both give tremendous performances. You really feel the fraternal bond between these two characters. Look for nice supporting turns from Anna Kendrick and American Ferrara.
If you have the stomach for it, End of Watch is one of the best cop movies to come along in years.
Extras: Director's commentary track, five short production featurettes, and a dozen or so deleted and alternate scenes.
Also New This Week:
The Paperboy: Nicole Kidman stars in updated Southern Gothic swamp drama from director Lee Daniels' (Precious)
Beauty is Embarrassing: One of last year's best documentaries profiles eccentric designer and artist Wayne White, visual architect of Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
For a Good Time, Call...: Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor star as two 20-something entrepreneurs who start a phone sex operation.
Nobody Walks: A hipster student disrupts the lives of a wealthy L.A. couple, starring John Krasinski and Rosemary DeWitt.
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Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.
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