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'End of Watch' Movie Review

One Worth Watching

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal star in 'End of Watch'

Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal star in 'End of Watch'

© Open Road Films
End of Watch is a buddy cop drama that follows two young charismatic men working the mean streets of LA, swapping stories as they ride around looking for criminals...stop me if you've heard this plot description before. Read the synopsis and you could assume this is your standard police procedural, albeit a grittier, R-rated version of the norm. But assuming can get you in trouble, and in this case it could lead you to missing out on what is one of the best films of 2012 to date. It's also one of the best of its genre in at least the past 10 years.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena deliver two of the more memorable 'cop' performances in years, playing characters with an overabundance of testosterone-fueled bravado mixed with equal parts of emotional vulnerability and humor. Gyllenhaal and Pena can proudly point to this film as one of their crowning acting achievements, a high point when they ultimately put together their career highlight reels. Their chemistry is something special, with their connection quickly coming across onscreen.
Director David Ayer uses a found footage format - one that's gotten overplayed recently - to tell a riveting story that delivers on multiple levels. And the necessary use of shaky cam isn't intrusive, as it easily could have been. End of Watch isn't simply an action movie, however the action scenes put you directly into the line of fire. End of Watch also isn't just a police drama as it spends time carefully developing the personal lives of its two main protagonists. The women in Officer Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala's (Pena) lives aren't simply throw-away characters. Played by Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez, these are strong supporting roles instead of the window-dressing so often served up in this type of movie.

As officers Taylor and Zavala cruise the streets, the calls they roll up on put them in increasing danger. But the busts, of which there are many, aren't what make End of Watch so compelling. This is a character-driven buddy film with gun battles and battles of wits, with a surprising amount of humor as well as heart, soul, and lethal weapons.

Writer/director David Ayer's resume includes writing Training Day and directing Harsh Times, and End of Watch fits in snugly with those projects genre-wise. However, End of Watch feels even more meaty than either of those. Sure, there's an occasional cheat with the found footage aspect, but Ayer sticks to it as much as possible and only vacates the style when it's absolutely necessary to sacrifice the style for substance. It also seems a bit improbable that these two officers would be the first responders on so many calls that ultimately turn out to be huge busts. But that can also be forgiven as there is a string that runs through the incidents, and that string pulls tighter and tighter until it gets to the breaking point with the film's climax.

End of Watch is an absolute must-see, even for those who avoid CSI, Criminal Minds, and Southland on TV.


End of Watch was directed by David Ayer and is rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use.

Theatrical Release: September 21, 2012

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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