Movie review: Strong acting keeps adrenaline flowing in 'End of Watch'


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Chemistry and compatibility.

They're as important in police partners as in a romcom and Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are a dream team in the gritty "End of Watch."

Mr. Gyllenhaal little resembles the suave salesman in "Love & Other Drugs" or lovesick cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain." His head is shaved and he looks as if he's bulked up while Mr. Pena makes good on the promise he demonstrated in "Crash" and fulfilled in such movies as "World Trade Center."

Unlike the cops who spend much of their time at the precinct house, Officer Brian Taylor (Mr. Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala (Mr. Pena) log most of their hours in a cruiser in South Central Los Angeles.


'End of Watch'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick.
  • Rating: R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language, including sexual reference, and some drug use.

Brian is a bright guy, a serial dater, former Marine and pre-law student who is taking a filmmaking class as an elective, while Mike hails from the streets of East Los Angeles, married his high school sweetheart and is expecting his first child. The pair met at the police academy and have great rapport, swapping personal histories, advice and teasing jokes and always watching the other's back.

Cameras are everywhere in this universe, from dash cams giving us a front-seat view during a dizzying extended car chase, to lipstick-size cameras clipped to shirt pockets and handheld cameras or cell phones wielded by neighborhood residents. Everyone is recording everyone else, for evidence, protection or YouTube amusement.

The types of criminals, the level of danger and the fusillade of ammo and hatred the men face are light years away from what TV watchers saw on "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and even "The Shield."

The title refers to the end of shift and, on a darker note, the possibility that someone won't make it to the end of the work day. A cynical veteran (David Harbour) predicts the department will brutalize the youthful officers and make them want to eat their guns, even as a sense of dread starts to pervade the proceedings as the cops become the target of gangbangers who mean bloody business.

Along the way Mr. Gyllenhaal's character starts to date a woman (Anna Kendrick) who might be the one. His partner reminds him that marriage "is forever ... a promise before God" and repeats what his grandma said before he and Gabby (Natalie Martinez) got engaged.

"She asked me if I could live without her. And if the answer was 'Yes' to forget her."

"End of Watch" is from writer-director David Ayer, no stranger to the boys in blue after his work on "Training Day" (which won Denzel Washington an Oscar as a corrupt cop), "Dark Blue," "S.W.A.T.," "Harsh Times" and "Street Kings." Ambition and righteousness might make officers skirt or bend the law but these two look like they belong on a recruiting poster.

Anchored by outstanding leads, "End of Watch" has humor, heart, heroic action as when officers roll up on a fire with children trapped, foolhardy risks, adrenaline, terror and a reminder about how the thin blue line can all too easily gush red.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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