Film Review – End of Watch
My dad was a cop for most of my childhood before he decided to leave the force and become a private investigator. I shit you not, that’s a real thing. I’m not making that up. A good portion of my time as a youngster was spent in the police station with my dad and his police buddies. I can still vividly remember the hum of the fluorescent lighting and the furnishings leftover from a hodgepodge of decades gone by. In my mind the accident division room is perpetually stuck in the early eighties and nobody was allowed through the door without a prototypical mustache. Even though my dad retired early, he never lost contact with his former friends in the department and some of them were so close they were practically family. Basically, I’ve been around enough cops to know what most people don’t really understand; they’re people. Some of them are assholes. Some of them are the nicest men and women you will ever meet. Some of them have strange hobbies and some of them are smarter than you could ever hope to be yourself. Some are as dumb as dirt. Police departments are walking samplings of the community they are tasked to serve. If you truly wish to find one police officer to fit a profile to a T, chances are you can find that officer somewhere. They are exactly what you think they are as well as everything you never would expect.
David Ayer’s End of Watch tries to show us the world of law enforcement through a lens that is far more positive than what you generally get from most cinematic outings. This is one of the few cop films I have ever seen that doesn’t feature the trope of the corrupt police officer. This is a film that wants you to come out of the theater feeling a little more respect for what cops do and it does it in the only way that you can manage that feat; by focusing more on the fact that there are men and women wearing those uniforms who have lives and feelings and families. Although the film features plenty of on-duty heroics and action, the script seems far more focused on showing you that even if these men and women don’t take gunfire at every turn they still operate under the constant threat of violence and bodily harm and they do so with wives and husbands and young children at home. Essentially, the film wants to take the patriotic love most Americans have for soldiers and sprinkle that a little bit towards the police. It’s easy to love soldiers. They’re overseas fighting the good fight and how much daily interaction do we have with them while on duty? Very little. The public will always have a resentment towards the police because they are policing us as citizens. If the military were the ones telling us not to drive over 55 or not to run that red light, I’m sure there would be far fewer “Support the Troops” bumper stickers around. I’m not saying that the police are perfect and that each one deserves our undying love. I read an article this morning about a Houston cop who shot a man in a wheelchair. This is that officer’s second shooting in five years. There are plenty of questions to ask about law enforcement in this country. The militarization of most American police departments as part of the escalating war on drugs has bled over into everyday tactics and has had serious repercussions in the way we view our police officers. That having been said, you can see why they might get a little defensive when most people have a blanket “Fuck the Police” mindset.
I think films like End of Watch need to exist to balance out the “dirty cop” genre. Not only does it serve as a chance to remind people that cops really are out there trying to help, but the counterpoint feels exceedingly fresh among the crop of films that seek to push the opposite image of law enforcement. I feel that for every show like The Shield or every film like Bad Lieutenant, we need something like this to balance things out. If it weren’t a good movie in and of itself, regardless of the message behind it, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review at all. The thing about End of Watch is that it is entertaining in and of itself. It feels like an extended episode of COPS that doesn’t leave you feeling like you need a shower. The acting on display is excellent. I’m not really a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal but here he really turns in a great performance as an everyman who the audience can relate to and empathize with. He is equal parts immature and stoic and he pulls it off well. Michael Pena really deserves to be showcased more often because I feel he is insanely talented. He and Gyllenhaal really do feel like they’ve been rolling in a shop together for an extended period of time. Their chemistry rings very true and because this film works so hard to sell the “people behind the badge” aspect, that element cannot be undersold.
I don’t know how well this film will go over. I think people will go in expecting something more action oriented and be surprised that it is about 85% character drama with rare flare-ups in violence. It’s a seemingly realistic depiction of law enforcement in that when the shit does hit the fan it does so unexpectedly and it catches you off guard. The audience I saw this with were visibly and audibly shocked multiple times during the showing and had a very visceral reaction to the film as a whole. It was also a packed house, so maybe the film will do well enough to make it a success. It is definitely a film that had the crowd talking afterward and that’s always a good sign.