‘End of Watch’: Jake Gyllenhaal Gives South Central LA’s Streets a Hollywood Sheen (MOVIE REVIEW)

Jake: 'End of Watch'
Jake Gyllenhaal visited a murder scene to prepare for the role.
Jake Gyllenhaal shaves his head, Michael Pena bites the bullet, and writer-director David Ayer does what he’s been doing for years, delivering gritty tales about the ‘thin blue line that separates the prey from the predator’ on the posy-strewn paths of South-Central Los Angeles.

End Of Watch employs a pseudo-documentary style that amps up the action scenes, but ultimately, riding along Officers Taylor  (Gyllenhaal), and Zavala (Pena) is a bit of a drag.

Having grown up on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, Ayer has developed through relationships with both policemen and gangsters what he calls the ‘I-can-write-about-cops’ gene, as evidenced in his Oscar-winning Training Day and others in the genre like Street Kings and Dark Blue.

What is there to watch in Gyllenhaal’s latest?

With End Of Watch, Ayer tuns his lens on familiar territory capturing the on-duty hours of two patrol cops.

Shot in hyper-realistic style, he uses surveillance cameras, lipstick-cams, dash-cams and hand held cameras under the pretense that Taylor is studying filmmaking on the side and is recording his patrol as part of a project. Not that it couldn’t happen, but it sounds like something you’d see in a movie.

And Jake Gyllenhaal looks like someone you’d see in a movie — which is ironic considering his presence belies the elaborate low-budget/ripped-from-reality look Ayers so diligently affects.

What good is convincing us it’s real if you put a famous movie star front and center? The answer is the movie star draws the financing, and without him the movie doesn’t get made.

On patrol day after day, events unroll with the bare semblance of a plot as Taylor and Zavala cruise around talking about girlfriends, wives, work and just about everything else.

The two actors affect an easy rapport with the rhythms and structures of real conversation. While it feels extemporaneous, according to Ayer the dialogue in the movie is delivered as written with minimal ad-libbing.

The guys soon run afoul of a crime lord named Big Evil who, when asked why he’s called Big Evil, responds with the movie’s best line – “Because my evil… is big.” It’s a sentence that says practically nothing but still says it all.

Evil is tied to the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s deadliest, and it’s not long before Taylor and Zavala stumble into a hornet’s nest beyond any hope of escape.

While Ayer and his cast demonstrate a thorough understanding of their subject, and their movie features realistic violence and casual callousness, End Of Watch doesn’t really go anywhere.

It’s essentially hanging out with a pair of blunt and dimwitted cops who curse a lot and occasionally have fights, car chases and shootouts – after awhile it loses its charm.

Anna Kendrick drops in for a couple of scenes as Taylor’s girlfriend as if to remind us that he is not, in fact, married to Zavala in the movie. And America Ferrera has a cameo as a fellow cop, but if you blink you’ll miss her.

Gyllenhaal and Pena did five months of preparation for the shoot – ride-alongs with cops, fight training in an Echo Park gym, weapons work on the firing range – and it all appears authentic on the big screen.

But with sketched-in characters and thematic elements that tell us little more than “it’s tough out there on the streets,” End Of Watch is dismissible as a tonally unique but otherwise forgettable cop movie.

–review by Jordan Riefe

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