“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

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“END OF WATCH” (2012) Review

If there is one present day screenwriter who has written so much about the working-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it is writer-director David Ayer. In the past, he has written crime dramas such as “TRAINING DAY”“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”“DARK BLUE” and “STREET KINGS”. Just last year, he added another entry in his crime filmography with last year’s “END OF WATCH”

Shot in documentary style (at least some of it), “END OF WATCH” followed the daily grind of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, two young Los Angeles Police Department beat officers who are both partners and close friends, who patrol the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Taylor, a former U.S. Marine, is video recording his police activities for a film class, much to the annoyance of his fellow cops. The partners deal with a fire, occupants of a crack house, a public disturbance call that leads to a fight between a Bloods gang member named Tre and Zavalas, and a noisy party filled with Latino gang members that include a leader named Big Evil. But when Taylor has a hunch about Big Evil and convinces Zavalas that they should stake out the house of the home of the gang leader’s mother. When they do, the partners pull over a truck that leaves the house, arrest the driver and discover ornately-decorated firearms and a large amount of money inside the truck. Further investigations of the house leads to the discovery of more arms, human trafficking victims, and a warning from an ICE agent that the partners have stumbled into an operation with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. The agent warns Taylor and Zavalas that they are over their heads, but the two officers end up ignoring him. The young officers’ private lives are also explored. Zavalas’ wife is pregnant with their second child and Taylor meets and ends up marrying a young woman named Janet.

“END OF WATCH” is not a bad movie. It provided an interesting look at the daily lives of police patrolmen in the working class neighborhoods of Los Angeles. In a way, it almost reminds me of the 1988 movie, “COLORS”. In many ways. The movie also benefited from some superb performances by leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. The two actors managed to create a sizzling screen chemistry that made the close relationship between the two characters believable. They especially shined in the movie’s last reel, which featured Zavalas’ account of an embarrassing and funny encounter with his in-laws. And I also found Ayer’s direction very energetic. To my surprise, I was not even bothered by the the movie’s handheld camera format. And Ayer’s handling of the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang members, who are working on behalf of the Mexican cartel, was outstanding. In fact, I consider this last scene to be the movie’s pièce de résistance.

Despite the virtues I have listed . . . I did not like “END OF WATCH”. I do not dislike the movie. But I did not like it very much. Part of my disappointment with the film has to do with David Ayer’s screenplay. I could not tell whether he had intended for “END OF WATCH” to simply be a documentary style look into the lives of two police patrolmen . . . or a story about two police officers’ troubles with a Mexican crime cartel. It seemed as if he was trying to mix two different crime genres and failed to balance it out. It did not help that the subplot regarding Taylor’s film project had no real impact on the movie’s main narrative and it was simply discarded two-thirds into the movie. Ayer’s script allowed an ICE agent to warn Taylor and Zavalas that they had stumbled into a Mexican cartel operation following their arrest of the truck driver. But when an ICE surveillance camera recorded a cartel member putting a hit on the two young officers using Big Evil’s gang, the ICE agent failed to make a reappearance to warn the pair. Instead, Ayer’s script allows Tre to issue the warning. And I found myself asking . . . why. Why did Ayer allow Tre to issue a warning about the hit and not the ICE agent?

Aside from Brian Taylor and Mike Zavalas, the movie’s other characters strike me as one-dimensional . . . especially the character of Tre and the members of Big Evil’s gang. In fact, some of their dialogue felt as if it was over two decades old and had been lifted straight from “COLORS”. Ayers tried to broaden the other characters. He managed to somewhat succeed with the Gabby Zavalas character, portrayed by Natalie Martinez. But everyone else seemed to fall flat. David Harbour was simply wasted as disenchanted police officer Van Hauser, who continuously warned the two younger officers that the L.A.P.D. will stab them in the back one back. Unfortunately, Ayer never explained Van Hauser’s mindset. Watching“END OF WATCH”, I found it hard to believe that Anna Kendrick was once nominated for an Academy Award. She was surely wasted in this film as Taylor’s girlfriend and eventual wife. And her character struck me as even more one-dimensional as the gang members.

I wish I could say that I liked “END OF WATCH”. The trailer had impressed me. I was also impressed by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Michael Peña, who projected a dynamic screen chemistry. And I found the shootout between the two cops and Big Evil’s gang dynamic. But somewhere along the way, the one-dimensional supporting characters and questionable subplots simply left me cold.

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