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Should You See “End of Watch”?

October 9, 2012

End of Watch is nearing the end of its run in theaters, where it’s grossed more than $32 million—not bad considering its $7 million budget. I’d been meaning to see it, especially after William Friedkin tweeted it “may be the best cop film ever” (high praise coming from the guy who directed The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A.). I finally caught up with it at a Columbus Day matinee, and while I wouldn’t go quite so far as Friedkin did, I’m glad I saw it.

I’ve never been a Jake Gyllenhaal fan; I vividly remember when I wrote that he “couldn’t act his way out of a plastic bubble” in my EW review of Bubble Boy in 2001. My editor cut that line, figuring maybe Gyllenhaal would do something good someday, and when he was Oscar-nominated five years later for Brokeback Mountain, I finally had to concede he’d been right.

Gyllenhaal produced End of Watch and stars as an LAPD uniformed officer. He still seems a bit of a lightweight to me, but he does conjure potent bromantic chemistry with Michael Peña as his longtime partner. As they tool around the City of Angels, dealing with various devils, the movie feels like nothing more than an above-average episode of Southland. Finally, after an hour or so, the story line kicks in when the cops cross a deadly drug cartel that’s setting up shop in L.A, and you realize that writer-director David Ayer (who explored a darker side of the LAPD in his screenplay for Training Day) has made you care deeply about the fates of these two men.

That’s mostly achieved through savvy character development; the movie spends a surprising amount of time dealing with the partners’ personal lives. Peña’s character married his high-school sweetheart and is expecting a child. Gyllenhaal’s is single, but that changes after he meets his brainy match in Anna Kendrick. The rock-solid supporting cast also includes Frank Grillo (The Grey) as a hardass sergeant and David Harbour (Revolutionary Road) as a loose-cannon patrolman.

As emotionally effective as it turns out to be, I didn’t find End of Watch to be groundbreaking. The “found footage” conceit isn’t maintained consistently and mainly results in several nausea-inducing handheld camera scenes. What’s more refreshing is the positive light in which policemen are portrayed in this movie, after decades of crooked cops on TV shows like The Shield and in movies like Dark Blue. So yes, End of Watch is worth watching… but it won’t be a crime if you wait for the Blu-Ray.

Did you see End of Watch? Post a comment!

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