Disappointing... yet brilliant

Random and not-so-random thoughts about movies

[NB: this is a rewritten and much-expanded version of a review that appeared during the London Film Festival]

End Of Watch

Director David Ayer

Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez

USA 2012

1hr 49 mins

Language English


Perceptive study of male friendship hidden inside a cop-movie wrapper

Of all the genres of film, it’s hard to think of one that has been eclipsed by the current golden age of television as much as the cop movie. There’s something about police work, its procedures, its different-but-similar incidents, the chat between two people stuck together in a car when nothing is happening, that seems to fit 13 or 24 hours better than two. That’s true whether you are following one big case or many smaller ones, going for downbeat realism or high gothic, and the setting is Malmo, the Paris suburbs or Baltimore.

End Of Watch goes chasing down the same kind of low-rent LA streets and alleys between one-story clapboard houses and chain-link yards* as (the impossibly great) The Shield** and, more recently, (the excellent) Southland, which is currently showing on More 4. It’s close in feel to the latter, especially to those bits involving the bloke from The OC. We’re riding with uniforms rather than detectives, and so meant to be dealing with the daily grind, not extended cases. Until…

But that TV comparison is not meant to belittle End Of Watch, just to say that bar has been set extremely high. This is a terrific buddy movie about two good, if slightly cocky, cops making a sincere attempt to do a tough job well. What Jake Gyllenhaal (unexpectedly big and bald) and Michael Peña manage here ranks up there with the finest attempts to capture the essence of male friendship on film, from the steady barrage of (quality, perfectly timed) taking the piss to the brief moments of total honesty. These are characters who, to paraphrase Vincent Gallo, have spanned some time together. 

This is a very funny movie, with a bunch of good jokes at the expense of white people. There’s a great soundtrack. It’s also somewhat anxiety-inducing, and occasionally horrifying. Some of the plot developments are a bit obvious, the bad guys absurdly over the top and too clichéd and the device of having the characters filming themselves a bit tired. But I liked it a lot, and loved the ending.

*LA’s refusal to build large-scale public housing projects has been an inadvertent gift to directors.

**Chris Petit on why The Shield is better than The Wire – it’s a tough call: season four of The Wire is an astonishing exposé of how big cities and schools in low income areas really work that will also make you weep buckets, but Vendrell’s storyline in the closing weeks of The Shield could be the best argument for long-running TV, seven seasons to get you to a point where behaviour that most of us regard as sickening and incomprehensible suddenly seems logical…

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