The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


End of Watch

End of Watch is like an episode of “Cops” where the cops are also the people who make “Cops.” That concept may not sound good, but it somehow did produce one of the most intense police dramas I've ever seen. While the events that take place during the film are not necessarily new, the approach makes them feel that way. Writer/director David Ayer (Street Kings) has taken an idea that's been done to death – that whole “found footage” thing – and figured out how to use it in an unexpected manner. The movie is proof that a new coat of paint can really brighten up a room. Or, for that matter, an entire genre.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Brian Taylor, an L.A. cop who patrols the streets of South Central with his partner/best friend Mike Zavala (Michael Pena). Taylor is also an aspiring filmmaker, so he takes an HD video camera on patrol, and insists that he and Zavala wear tiny cameras on their uniforms. He intends to make a documentary about the life of a police officer. His superiors are none too happy with his hobby, but he captures footage that is exciting, and occasionally quite disturbing. Brian's other passion is Janet (Anna Kendrick), the first woman he ever truly falls for. The first half of End of Watch follows the men as they go on calls and joke around with each other in the squad car. Then something happens that puts them at odds with a vicious street gang, seriously endangering their lives.

I've grown tired of movies made to look like someone's home videos, but End of Watch makes the technique work by occasionally abandoning it. Much of the film appears as though it is coming through the cameras Taylor and Zavala are carrying; other times, Ayer switches to a third-person perspective. Some shots come from angles where no one is standing, or from places where there is no camera. (One especially cool shot comes from the barrel of a gun, looking back at the person holding it.) This approach allows us to feel like we're in the thick of the action when it counts, without any of the annoying drawbacks that have become hallmarks of the found footage genre, e.g. trying to find a reason to justify why somebody would be filming something. Ayer blends the first-person and third-person shots seamlessly, so that you hardly even notice what he's doing. Ironically, breaking the “rules” a little bit gives the movie an increased sense of you are there tension.

While some undeniably violent stuff happens, End of Watch is more than just a police thriller. It's first and foremost a salute to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day in the name of public safety. We are shown the unpredictability of the job, in which every call, however seemingly innocuous, can yield dangerous results. We also see the camaraderie that accompanies this line of work. Taylor and Zavala are more than partners, more than friends. They are brothers. They take care of each other just as much as they take care of the citizenry. Whether rushing into a burning building to save a child or giving each other romantic advice, these guys are devoted to making their corner of the world a better place. The film is a terrific tribute to upstanding police officers everywhere.

Gyllenhaal and Pena do marvelous work. Many times, characterization gets lost amidst the found footage gimmick. Here, the actors use the technique to their advantage, employing a naturalistic approach that compliments the shooting style. Gyllenhaal also gets some affecting scenes with Kendrick, who transcends the “girlfriend” role by showing how Janet is an inspiration to Taylor. Because the performers are so good, the tension of the third act is cranked up to almost unbearable levels.

Unbearable, but totally worth it. To be honest, I was a bit of a nervous wreck when the movie was over. The feel of it is ultra-realistic, and I felt like I'd come to know these guys. The position they eventually find themselves in is so frightening that I genuinely felt my entire body tensing up as I watched. (The last movie to have this effect on me was The Grey.) Cop movies have been around forever but, an occasional minor slip into cliché aside, rarely have they been done this well. End of Watch is like doing a ride-along with two of L.A.'s finest while they experience the most harrowing days of their careers.

( 1/2 out of four)

End of Watch is rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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