Thursday, December 6, 2012

End of Watch

While visiting my father in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, we saw End of Watch.

End of Watch starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña; directed by David Ayers; some Spanish with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website

Visiting Las Vegas a several times over the past 15 years, I notice the differences in cinematic options. There are no rep houses in Las Vegas.  Nothing akin to PFA, Castro Theater, Landmark Theaters, Stanford Theater, Roxie Theater, etc.  It's strictly metroplex - Cinemark and Regal with only one AMC location.  That is interesting to me.  In SF and the Peninsula, it's most Cinemark & AMC with only the Stonestown as a Regal outlet (UA or United Artists is part of Regal).  There are a few more location in East Bay - Jack London Square in Oakland, the UAs in Emeryville and Downtown Berkeley.  For whatever reasons, Regal is weak in the Bay Area and AMC is weak in Las Vegas.

In general, this means I can't see anything but general release films when I go to Las Vegas.  There are a few exceptions such as That Evening Sun which never screened in the Bay Area.  A more common occurrence is to see films that have left the Bay Area chains still playing in Las Vegas.  End of Watch is one of those films.

According to FandangoEnd of Watch was not screening in the Bay Area during Thanksgiving week with the exception on daily 9:10 PM screening at Bluelight Cinemas, a second run theater in Cupertino. It had dedicated screens at AMC and Regal locations in Las Vegas that week.  These difference in demographics and audience preferences interest me but I'd still rather live in the Bay Area than Las Vegas.


LAPD Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) are partners.  Over the opening credits we see them (via a dashboard camera) pursue a car and have a shootout with two suspect.  Cleared of any wrongdoing, the film opens with Taylor & Zavala back on duty in the precinct.  Taylor is the smarter and more ambitious one.  Zavala is the sidekick but holds his own.  Taylor is single and a ladies man.  Zavala has been married to his high school sweetheart since graduation and was pushed by his wife into marriage and the police force.  He's not weak willed but is susceptible to suggestion from people he loves and respects.  Taylor & Zavala have a serious "bromance" going on which can only occur when people risk their lives for each such as in military combat or patrol cops in South Central LA.

The rapport with the two characters is really the heart of End of Watch   There are lot of shots from within the police cruiser of the two talking about all sorts of things.  I began to like both men; particularly Zavala who is more well-adjusted of the two probably due to the influence of his wife and family.  Actually both men are a bit of envious of the other.  Zavala wants to hear about the women in Taylor's life and Taylor's admires the relationship Zavala has with his wife.

The sidekick designation flips back and forth between the two although Gyllenhaal is considered the lead.  Early on Zavala challenges an African American suspect to fight in response to racial comments. He wins the fight (I would have insisted take off his bullet-proof vest) but doesn't report the incident which could have resulted in assault charges against the suspect.  This earns Zavala some respect among the Crips (or was he a Blood?).  As the film goes on to show, it's a new world in South Central. Later Zavala runs into a burning house to retrieve three children.  Hesitatingly, Taylor follows him in.  Both receive medals for their actions.

The real power in South Central is held by Mexican drug cartels (the Sinaloa Cartel in this film).  Taylor and Zavala make an arrest which produces some blinged out weapons including a gold plated assault rifle.  No one in the LAPD seems to follow up on the leads so Taylor decides to follow the leads because he wants to make detective.  Using the house fire as leverage, he gets Zavala to back his play.  They raid a house where they find human smuggling going on.  Within minutes, ICE shows up and tells Taylor that he interfered with an ongoing investigation.  Taking Taylor and Zavala aside, the ICE agents cautions them that they just took down a Sinaloa safe house and they should "power down" for their safety.

Events conspire against them.  Following up on a report of an old woman who hasn't been heard from for several days, they kick down the door to find drugs, the woman dead and tortured/mutilated remains of several other bodies.  The arrest makes the evening news which gets the attention of the Sinaloan shotcallers.  They put a hit on Taylor and Zavala.

One night, they see a car run a red light and they pursue it but it's a trap.  They chase the suspect into an apartment with the hit squad is waiting.  After escaping the initial attack, the two cornered on the street an Zavala thows himself on the wounded Taylor.  End of Watch ends with Taylor giving a eulogy at Zavala's funeral.  Actually there is a hilarious postscript in the patrol car where Zavala recounts his unsuccessful attempt to lose his virginity with his wife.  The scene is tinged with sadness because the audience knows what happens to him.

End of Watch is an extremely tense and violent film.  It would have been easy for this film to devolve into two adrenalin junkie cops kicking ass in da hood.  Writer & director David Ayers (who wrote the fabulous Training Day) spends considerable time fleshing out Taylor, Zavala and their relationship.  To the extent the audience likes and bonds with these two men, End of Watch will work.  I liked the two characters and thought End of Watch was incredible.  Michael Peña shines in the smaller of the two lead roles but the film is well cast - David Harbour as the dyspeptic cop, Natalie Martinez as Zavala's wife, Maurice Compte and Yahira Garcia as hardcore gangbangers and America Ferrara as a fellow cop.

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