I saw David Ayer‘s End of Watch (Open Road, 9.21) in Los Angeles just under three weeks ago, but never wrote a review. Apologies for that. This isn’t Training Day as it has no charismatic, self-destructive madman at the forefront. The leads (Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena) are just likable young hot-dog cops. But it’s good resourceful Ayers stuff — a gripping, adrenalized ride in an LAPD black-and-white through South Central, and God help them both.
Gyllenhaal and Pena are basically doing that uniformed Cops thing — a young white guy and a young Latino guy all trained up and following a tradition established decades ago by The Blue Knight and New Centurions…the old mean streets, shit-happens, never-a-dull-moment routine.
The difference here is the Mexican cartels, man. The cartels play by a whole different set of rules. They cut off heads…whoa. They bring in wetbacks and store them in shitty bungalows. Their guns and AKs are blinged up the wazoo. And about halfway through they decide to take out our young heroes. But Gyllenhaal and Pena are just doing their jobs and banging around. Just a coupla go-go guys in a black and white. If Gyllenhaal or Pena had, let’s say, had inappropriate sex with a 16 year-old kid sister of some cartel guy then you’d have a personal revenge element, but they’re just aggressive cops who discover a house full of wetbacks…what?
It’s the crazy Latinos, dawg. Big Evil (“My evil is big”) and his homies and bitches who shout “fuck!” and “fuckin’!” every four seconds and who walk around like wolverines, like serpents with flicking tongues who haven’t a thoughtful or fair-minded molecule in their entire bodies. There’s a scene with a brother saying to another brother, “Ten years ago the guy on the corner was selling fried chicken…now he’s got a taco stand.” Or words to that effect. Crazy, cranked-up macho essays.
I had heard initially that End of Watch would be all POV video footage — front seat cop-car videos, chest-cam, hand-held videos, etc. Not so. The coverage is all over the place. Master shots, helicopter overhead shots, inserts, POV shots that nobody involved could possibly deliver. And that’s a good thing. What Ayers does is plant the idea that it’s all being shot by individual videocams, and then he ignores that rule. And that’s cool.
I have a problem with the ending. It looks like somebody’s dead and then, to our surprise, they’re not. I’m not going to spoil anything, but if you’re going to shoot somebody in the chest and give them a sucking chest wound and have blood coming out their mouths, we all know what this means. And then they’re lying on the ground and several dozen more rounds are fired in their general direction (actually at somebody else but same difference) and they’re not going to catch another two or three stray bullets in the chest or the head or the gut? I didn’t buy it, man.
And if gang-bangers have just blown a couple of guys away (no hints, no allusions) in an area sure to be swarming with cops in a matter of minutes, why the hell would they take their time as they leave the scene, sauntering down an alley and patting each other on the back? They’re not stupid. If you want to hit somebody, you do it out of the blue and then scram. You don’t do it in a cops vs. bad guys war zone.
I didn’t know what “watch your six” meant at first. I assumed right off it was a variation on “watch your back,” but it refers to a clock face. 12 o’clock is straight ahead, 3 o’clock is to your right, 9 o’clock is to your left, and 6 o’clock is behind you.
The opening bit is pure cop-car POV footage of a high-speed pursuit, cut for efficiency but otherwise raw and narrated by Gyllenhaal, explaining the ethos and the commitment of a street cop…who we are and what we do. The rest of the film is between good, very good and excellent, but this opener is perfect. Open Road should be using this as a teaser.