Before I begin with my review of the past weekend’s top box office draw, I want to give a quick shout out to my blog’s new twitter account and facebook page which are now both open for business. You can follow the links provided or fine the appropriate boxes on the right side of my home page. Also please take a second to answer the Poll below, I’d love to get more input from you readers and Polls like this are one way I’m going to try to tap into that.
This weekend saw what will likely be the least appealing set of releases of the year. Between the unsurprising awfulness of House at the End of the Street, the bland looking Trouble with the Curve, and the apparently well-acted but hard to watch The Master, the only two choices I was left with were action movies (a genre which has covered 5 of my last 6 reviews). Since I had already seen Dredd, I decided to spend my miniscule amount of free time for the week on End of Watch. I’m not a big fan of the recent wave of the found footage format (Paramormal Activity, Cloverfield, Quarantine, etc.), but in light of a respectable Rotten Tomatoes score and favorable word of mouth from some of my fellow bloggers I tried to stay cautiously optimistic. I am happy to say that despite some pacing issues and an unremarkable set of antagonists, End of Watch benefits from strong performances from the two leads and the best use of the found footage format in recent memory.
Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike “Z” Zavala (Michael Peña) are two officers of the LAPD in the most criminally rampant area of Los Angeles. Between shootouts with suspects, questionable interpretations of “professional conduct” and a daring rescue of two children trapped in a burning building, Taylor and Z have made quite the name for themselves within their department as well as their district’s gang population. Unsurprisingly, the latter proves to be somewhat undesirable when the two stumble across a discovery that lands them in the cross-hairs of a powerful Mexican Cartel.
Gyllenhall and Pena own this movie, absolutely no doubt about that. Their playful banter in the squad car may take up a significant chunk of the screen time but it is the bond of brotherhood beneath those back and forths that really make you care about the characters. Both lead actors play great off of eachother in both the light hearted and emotionally heavy scenes. In fact, I felt like the two of them had even better chemistry between them than they did with their respective better halves, Janet (Anna Kendrick) and Gabby (Natalie Martinez). That being said, once the second half of the film started rolling along I really did enjoy Janet and Gabby, and I felt like the fact that we knew the extent of what Taylor and Z had to lose made the audience emotionally invest even more in their characters.
Aside from them, I actually did enjoy their fellow officers, comprised of America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) as Orozco, David Harbour (Revolutionary Road) as tight-ass Van Hauser, Cody Horn (Magic Mike) as Davis and Frank Grillo (The Grey) as Sarge. They came off as a very believable team of patrol officers feeling the effects of their dangerous beat. Unfortunately the Mexican gang that fills the “villainous criminal” role of the movie doesn’t have the same feel of authenticity to it. Rather than explore the culture of gang violence and poverty or immigration, we’re given a couple tough talking Cholas, a personality-less new recruit and a head honcho by the name of Big Evil who says “Fuck” more than Joe Pesci with Tourette’s.
As I mentioned before, I tend to stay away from most of the recent wave of found footage style movies that have been coming out in droves since the success of the Paranormal Activities movies. While I do admit that from a business standpoint it is more or less a slam dunk as intentionally filming a movie from a camcorder drastically lowers a film’s required budget, from an audience standpoint I don’t enjoy the nauseating task of following the simulated jerky, shaky cinematography of an amateur cameraman. In End of Watch, however, there is a great balance between pocket cams, handheld video recorders, squad car cams and general cinematic shots. The fact that we periodically switch between Point of View camera angles and traditional filming makes it so that we never have time to get tired of one style or the other. If anything, the mixture does great favors for the film’s action sequences; making ever heavy breath, every bead of sweat and every received or returned gunshot feel like it is in our own world rather than theirs.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 Pretty Damn Great
I was thinking that End of Watch was solidly within 7/10 territory for the majority of the film, but the last fifteen minutes or so changed my rating with little cause for reconsideration. Of course I can’t spoil anything, but it is those last fifteen minutes which reminded me that no amount of Prince of Persia‘s will change the fact that Jake Gyllenhall is an impressive actor, and that Michael Pena has earned every bit of the ongoing success he is currently enjoying. As someone who tries to apply a good deal of analysis while watching a movie, I make a point to recognize when a movie makes me forget the critic in me and truly empathize with the character(s) on screen. Any action movie that can also achieve that recognition is a film I will endorse without pause, and that is exactly the case with this film.