Well, for my first movie back, I chose End of Watch. Normally, I don’t go for “buddy cop” movies because they’re often extremely cheesy comedies with lame jokes and stereotypical white cop and sassy ethnic cop characters. While this movie did stick with the white cop/ethnic cop pairing, it was most definitely not a comedy. Sure, it had its comedic moments, but this was more of a dramatic thriller. When I saw the trailer, I knew this was going to be different. And by different, I mean grittier and more developed. But more about that later…
Here’s how Open Road describes the plot: “From the writer of Training Day, End of Watch is a riveting action thriller that puts audiences at the center of the chase like never before. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña star as young LA police officers who discover a secret that makes them the target of the country’s most dangerous drug cartel.”
When I first read this movie’s plot summary, the whole LAPD officers who “discover a secret that makes them the target of the country’s most dangerous drug cartel” seemed like a pretty wicked plot. When that kind of a promise is made in the plot summary, you expect to meet the officers, see their run-in with the cartel, learn the secret, and then see how it plays out. I don’t know if I can say that this movie did that well. Yes, we met Taylor and Zavala. Yes, we saw their run-in with some members of the drug cartel. Yes, we learned that the cartel was trafficking humans and selling all kinds of drugs and weapons.
But when it came to the “targeting,” the plot fell short. We saw a half-assed phone conversation involving someone who I’m assuming was the cartel’s drug lord, and then one of the regular gang member arrestees warned Taylor and Zavala that there was a hit on them. And only ONE group within the drug cartel targeted the officers. ONE. You’re telling me that this cartel infiltrated Los Angeles, yet when the target to kill these two cops went out, only ONE group went after them? If we’re talking realism, then realistically a whole bunch of groups working for the cartel should’ve been going after these guys, right?
As I stated earlier, with most “buddy cop” movies, there isn’t a lot of development beyond names, personality quirks, the random “I watched my former partner die” stories, and lame attempts at jokes while the cop characters shoot their way through the plot. Because the director and producers want you to focus on the special effects and explosions rather than the shitty screenwriters’ plot.
But End of Watch did their development right since most of the movie was spent crafting its two main characters—Officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Officer Zavala (Michael Peña). The movie’s plot really focuses on their relationship, as well as their lives with their spouses, families, and co-workers. The events that transpire are just moments of rising action, pushing the more complex theme of defining the characters’ relationship. That’s why rather than spending the entire movie watching them shoot at bad guys, we see them driving around in the cop car just talking about their lives.
While that might sound boring, trust me, it’s much more engaging to watch because, as an audience member, you start to care about those characters and what will happen to them—which is also why the ending tugged at my heartstrings more than it would’ve had I been watching Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 5: Now It’s Just Sad. I personally think this movie gave us more insight into the relationships of police partners than any police movie before now. That’s why we were shown Zavala’s niece(?)’s Quinceañera, the birth of Zavala’s son, Taylor driving around singing with his fiancée, Taylor’s wedding, and the conversation where Zavala said he would take care of Taylor’s wife and future kids if he was ever killed because that’s what police “brothers” do.
Speaking of character development and police “brothers,” this movie is pure bromance. If bromance was porn, this would be the next biggest seller. Is it just me, or is bromance becoming a character development that is extremely desirable and well-written in movies now? Like, seriously, you don’t see this kind of stuff in chick flicks. Maybe it’s just because Hollywood still thinks that women only care about backstabbing each other and shoe shopping, so they’ve focused all of their efforts on creating awesome dude relationships—I don’t know. But what I do know is that this shit works, and it’s really gratifying to watch.
But the ending?! The movie ended with Zavala’s funeral after he was gunned down by a group from the cartel while trying to help Taylor, who had also been shot. It would’ve been an extremely depressing ending had they not added a flashback scene right after the funeral scene showing Taylor and Zavala’s time in the police car right before the shooting. I liked that the filmmakers did this because it kind of recapped their bromance and left the audience with a happy memory rather than feelings of remorse. That being said, I wish this movie would’ve ended a little differently in terms of bringing the plot full-circle.
Considering that the majority of the movie was spent with Taylor filming his and Zavala’s work, shouldn’t this movie have ended with Taylor presenting his film for that filmmaking class that he was taking (or whatever it was for)? In the beginning, you see Taylor talking to a camera, explaining his project, etc., and then the rest of the movie follows him as he documents his job and his time with his partner. To end the film with him showing his project—or even just editing the project and then smiling as he watched good parts with Zavala (Damn, I’d be a great screenwriter, right?)—would have been a cleaner finish to this movie.
Before I get to my point about the awful handheld camera work, I want to pull out a camera technique that worked in this movie—one that I haven’t seen work in any other movie. And that’s first-person shooter camera angles. Obviously, if you’re a gamer, you know what first-person shooter looks like. For those of you who don’t know what first-person shooter looks like, it would be like your own vision when you’re looking down the barrel of a gun.
End of Watch did this toward the end of the movie when Taylor and Zavala were trying to escape a bad shootout in which they were caught, but they didn’t overuse it (which is always a plus). And it was so badass! If you’re a person who didn’t appreciate the film spending most of the time on character development, this will surely make up for it, even if it only happens for a brief moment. Because nothing says awesome like watching a dude get shot in the head from a first-person shooter angle.
Now…I really, really, really can’t stand handheld camera work in movies. I get that it makes the movie seem more realistic (like you’re actually there, bro!), but seriously…how can I watch a movie when I have to look down at the floor every few minutes to make sure I don’t get motion sick? At least with this movie, handheld camera work made sense (unlike in The Hunger Games…why, Gary Ross, why?!) because the movie was supposed to seem as if it were actually being documented by the characters themselves. Still, my personal preference is a nice, steady camera, so that I can focus on the movie and not on how much the cameraman is running around the set.
Overall, I thought this was a very good “buddy cop” movie. The reason it didn’t fall into the tragically cliché “buddy cop” movie ditch was because the filmmakers spent a lot of time building the relationship between the two main characters, and that development was worth the time when it came to the movie’s ending. As for the style of the movie, it will please both COPS fans and Training Day fans alike with its realistic police video camera shots and gritty plot line and violence. In fact, seeing this movie made me remember exactly why I never want to be a cop—especially a cop in Los Angeles. I will warn you that, if you’re someone like me who occasionally suffers from motion sickness in movies with really shaky camera work, then you may want to either avoid this movie or sit in the very back row because the movie is mostly filmed from a handheld point-of-view. But if you’re into that kind of thing, then Mazel Tov!