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Saturday, September 29, 2012

End of Watch



End of Watch, written and directed by David Ayers (Training Day) is one of the best cop movies in recent years. A bald and buff Jake Gyllenhaal stars alongside a sturdy Michael Pena as two uniformed police officers, a couple of self-described "ghetto cops", patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles. As Gyllenhaal describes into his omnipresent HD cameras, they are "the thin blue line" between law and chaos, and their beat is not one to be envied. As a manner of daily routine, Gyllenhaal and Pena deal with the real scum of humanity. Their neighborhood is a seedy war zone between black gangs at war with each other and with Mexican drug dealers increasingly taking over the territory. It's all the police can do, including their gristled but stalwart sergeant Frank Grillo and fellow officers America Ferrara and Cody Horn, to keep the peace. (Telling dialogue when Horn is asked if she has a soul: "No, sir, we keep it at home.") Gyllenhaal and Pena maintain their sanity and brothers-like friendship by busting each others' balls in their police cruiser, sometimes improvising hilarious dialogue about their hopes, dreams, childhood, marriage, sex lives, and why Gyllenhaal doesn't want to marry a Mexican girl. (Too many Quinceaneras to attend.) Contrasting Pena's happily married life, Gyllenhaal begins a sweet romance with Anna Kendrick, who understands what she's getting into by marrying a cop and is all in. Immediate and endlessly engaging, End of Watch still manages to feel downright epic; the story takes place over the course of weeks as Gyllenhaal and Pena engage in bristling car chases, shoot outs, uncover a human traffic ring, and become targets of a Mexican drug cartel. Their colleagues in blue seem like casualties of the job when one gets a knife in the eye and a rookie is nearly beaten to death by a gangbanger, but Gyllenhaal and Pena get it even worse when they're ambushed by repugnant Mexican thugs in a bloody, ultraviolent shoot out. The title "End of Watch" turns out to be sadly ominous, though it's a bit unfortunate the movie backs out of its incredibly bold ending of having both Gyllenhaal and Pena die by gunfire. Turns out one of them miraculously survived the machine gun massacre they're caught in. Guess which one.