Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

End of Watch


The first thing that has to be addressed is that there really are some movies that I’m glad I didn’t go see in the theater, that it was much better to have waited for the DVD. Usually it’s the other way. A huge spectacle looks better the wider it gets. A small drama works just as well on a wide screen or a 5-inch iPad (I guess; I don’t have a tablet and don’t plan to get one). But these days, some medium-sized movies like this one are just too damn much for me on the wide screen, and the reason is I wouldn’t be able to comprehend at least half of it.

The writer-director’s original intention was to film this whole thing as “found footage,” a format that can work, but usually doesn’t. Luckily he came to his senses and made it as a mixture. Jake Gyllenhaal is an LAPD patrol cop who is making a movie for a film class he’s taking, and shooting stuff while he’s on the job. He has a regular camera and some tiny ones you can wear or install in various places around your “shop,” which is LAPD-speak for patrol car. Not many of the other cops he works with are thrilled with this, and in fact his captain tells him not to do it. But his partner, Michael Peña, is fine with it. (Have to mention here that Peña has just landed the dream role for Hispanic actors: Cesar Chavez! Good for you, Michael! He’s very, very good in this movie.) So we get a lot of footage that is extremely jerky, so bad that it might have been painful in the theater.

We start right off with a pursuit, filmed in one take with the standard LAPD dash cam, and it’s a doozy, including a shoot-out at the end. Jake and Michael take down two bad guys. Then we cut to the locker room where Jake is introducing himself and showing off his cameras and such, this on the day when they both come back on duty after the review board deems the shoot to be righteous. (Damn well better be. Those assholes opened up on the cops with fully-automatic AKs, practically destroyed their shop before being taken down.)

From there we bounce around a lot. Some of it is from the POV of the really, really nasty Mexican gang-bangers, who are at war with the Bloods whose neighborhood the beaners are moving into. Some of it is day-in-the-life of the two patrolmen, trying to do some good and stay alive in South Central. Some of it is their lives off duty. Michael’s wife (Natalie Martinez) has a baby. Jake courts and marries one of our favorite upcoming actresses, Anna Kendrick.

There are some very fine action scenes. But there is a subtext that these two cops are getting in the way of the Sinaloa Cartel, which is moving north of the border with a level of violence we haven’t yet seen in El Norte, but which Mexicans have been enduring for decades because of our idiotic drug laws. The cartel puts out a hit on the two patrolmen …

This is not a movie that is deeply into plot. The action scenes are crisp and exciting, and as disjointed as I imagine most real action is. But the real interest is the conversations that happen in the shop, just the two of them, horsing around, breaking each others’ balls, clearly loving each other like brothers. The dialogue is fantastically good. (The director said he wrote it all in six days!) The acting is superb. This is the best cop movie I’ve seen in a very long time. It has a feeling of reality that few movies achieve, and the found footage part of the equation is a big part of it. You could actually believe that this was just recorded off the cuff by two working blues.

The violent scenes are extremely violent, and the language is about as rough as the real language in South Central, both in the shop and outside of it. Seldom does a noun float through the air without getting at least one “fucking” attached to it, and about half the nouns are “motherfucker.” Some sentences have four or even more variations of fuck in them. If blood or language upset you, stay far, far away from this. Otherwise, see it at once. I can hardly praise it enough.