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Movie Review: End of Watch

Posted November 22, 2012 by Paul Fennessy in 2012
End Of Watch


Ramp Rating


Genre: ,
Stars: ,
Release Date: November 23


Faultless acting; action scenes are extremely tense; shot and structured in an innovative fashion.


Doesn't always play to its strengths; some overly macho jokes fall flat; lacks the level of depth it requires; characters aren't especially interesting.

A relatively entertaining but ultimately insubstantial cop drama, featuring fine performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.

by Paul Fennessy
Full Article

There’s something quite sad about watching certain films – invariably ones directed by George Clooney – that plainly seek to be great, but despite all the willpower in the world, just don’t quite possess the exceptional talent levels required to succeed unequivocally.

A case in point is End of Watch, directed by David Ayer (who wrote Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, in addition to directing a handful of other less successful movies), which is the story of two cops who develop a close friendship while simultaneously working together to help keep the streets of South Central Los Angeles safe.

To its credit, End of Watch is an ambitious film. Its innovative found-footage shooting style accentuates the sense of claustrophobia and intimacy that the movie invariably elicits, making it feel as if you’re right there in the thick of the action alongside the officers. And the shaky camera movements also provide the film with a rawness that accordingly invites comparison with the most iconic cop drama of recent times, The Wire.

Moreover, it possesses a level of verisimilitude akin to David Simon’s work, and the events of the film never stray unduly from realism or feel in anyway improbable, as has often been the case with many of the sillier cop dramas made over the years (that’s right, I’m looking at you, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans).

However, it lacks the depth and richly imagined inhabitants of the Baltimore drama. Though Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal are thoroughly convincing in the lead roles, their characters aren’t particularly interesting. They’re just two relatively upstanding cops with a penchant for banter and general macho behaviour. Nice, but dull, and nothing we haven’t seen countless times before, essentially.

The script’s overt virility feels so excessive (even by cop movie standards) that it veers dangerously close to self-parody.

Another work that seemingly inspired End of Watch is Reservoir Dogs. Though its structure is also somewhat unusual and its characters engage in the kind of low-brow small talk that Quentin Tarantino made an art form of, it simply isn’t quite as sharply written or witty as QT’s movies generally tend to be. It’s just as macho though, yet at some points, the script’s overt virility feels so excessive (even by cop movie standards) that it veers dangerously close to self-parody – a scene where two attractive young women passionately kiss one another is as inevitable as it is groan-inducing. Moreover, these ostensible acts of audience-pandering seemingly counteract the frequent points where it wants to be taken seriously as a mature and realistic cop drama. Its humour, similarly, is hit and miss – one particularly cringeworthy and stereotypical joke about Irish people, which I’ll refrain from bothering to repeat, springs to mind.

One other genre that End of Watch invokes is the buddy movie, given the deep amounts of respect for each other that the two protagonists patently show. Yet paradoxically, these types of movies are often at their best when there is a discernible degree of tension established between the main characters. However, the dynamic between Taylor and Zavala (played by Gyllenhaal and Peña, who have wonderful on-screen chemistry) is neither as hilarious nor as fascinating to watch unfold as, for example, the love-hate one involving Jack and Reggie in 48 Hours. The problem is that they simply like each other too much, and thus, their relationship is devoid of the undercurrent of conflict necessary to intrigue audiences consistently.

Where the movie’s true strength lies however, is not in its characters, nor its dialogue, but in its action sequences – and the final one, in particular, is masterfully executed, with Hurt Locker-worthy levels of tension. It is unfortunate, therefore, that so few of these types of scenes exist in the movie, with too much screen-time being devoted to less interesting issues, such as the characters’ unremarkable personal lives.

Moreover, the movie’s ending, without spoiling anything specific, strives to transcend standard cop drama fare and instead, tug at the audience’s heartstrings. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of depth amid its underwhelming conclusion. It simply fails to say anything especially coherent or substantial, which its sobriety warrants, and consequently, is likely to leave viewers feeling rather empty and unsatisfied.

So what was the director’s name again? David Ayer? More like David Ah Here!

About the Author

Paul Fennessy

Paul likes films, books, music and artsy stuff in general. He also likes writing about those subjects, preferably typing at 100 miles an hour while simultaneously slurping coffee and checking his Twitter stream.

  • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney

    Surely this deserves an extra star for Jake Gyllenhaal’s shaved head? Rarr!

    • http://twitter.com/fenno21 Paul Fennessy

      Gyllenhaal and his head are fantastic, to be fair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Smurphatron Sue Murphy

    First of all, Clooney is one of the finest directors working at the moment. Anyone that has seen Ides of March can testify to that, it’s intelligent slick film-making and this is only his 5th film as director, not too shabby for a doctor on ER. Engaging drama with a message. Can’t fault the guy.

    Secondly, The Wire, although the greatest series pretty much ever, had five series to get in depth and get to know the characters, a lot more time to play around with and the ability to develop a plot over an entire series.

    Thirdly. The point is they ARE ordinary cops and this is their ordinary lives and this is the ordinary LA gangland stuff they get mixed up in. Frankly, I thought it was amazing they managed to stay entirely away from all the razzle dazzle of Hollywood. Ayer grew up in this envoirnment, I think he would have a thing or two to say about it.

    Fourthly. This is a snapshot of their lives and I think the ending was perfect. The world will continue to turn, everything else will go on, but this guy has lost his partner and that’s all that matters to him. In a high-pressure dangerous workplace like these two operate in, it’s not each man for himself, there NEEDS to be that buddy I-would-throw-myself-in-front-of-a-bullet-for-you element, because let’s be fair if they don’t then no one else will. It’s understanding combat relationships, same as Iraq, Afghanistan etc etc.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant, I just think it’s a finer film than this makes it out to be. In fact, personally I reckon it’s one of the finest cop movies I’ve seen. :(

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