The Port Arthur News
“End of Watch” is a bit of a macho love letter to the beat cops of the Los Angeles Police Department. It features an engaging mix of action and tense situations, but succeeds mostly because of two superb central performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. It’s quite refreshing to find a police procedural with genuine characters and legitimate acting at its core. The film is certainly a nice change from the stereotypical performances that have populated most of the films from the past few months.
Gyllenhaal and Peña play officers Brian and Mike, partners patrolling the mean streets of Los Angeles. Brian is taking a night class in filmmaking, so he carries tiny cameras along with him on the job. The cameras record the dramatic events as these officers run afoul of a drug cartel because of a routine traffic stop, and the subsequent retaliation by the cartel against the two men.
This is a found footage movie, which generally means that you can expect lots of shaky camera work and poor framing. I’m not a big fan of this filmmaking technique, but I will admit that in “End of Watch,” the found footage style offers a far more intimate view into the lives of these two men than we might otherwise get from a standard film setup. It also gives the action sequences some extra energy, as we don’t get the calming overview of events from a wide establishing shot, but are instead thrust right into the melee via a dashboard-mounted camera.
Camera techniques aside, it’s the acting that is the heart of this film. Both Gyllenhaal and Peña breathe life into their roles as men who are willing the bend the rules in the pursuit of justice, but who genuinely believe in the mantra of protecting and serving their community. These are men who would lay down their lives for their partner, and their genuine commitment to each other makes it impossible for the audience to simply dismiss this film as just another cop action flick.
Then again, there is a whole lot of action here. It strains credulity to watch these guys survive what seems like more harrowing car chases and gun battles in a single shift than most officers would encounter over the course of their career. The filmmakers seem determined to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. They accomplish this task, but it does seem a bit excessive in hindsight.
That’s a bit of a nitpick—better to be too action-heavy than run the risk of the film being boring. When you throw in the strong acting and a solid screenplay, “End of Watch” proves to be a surprisingly good film and a great way to kick off the fall movie season.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.