‘End of Watch’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:18 am,

End of Watch Review starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena 2012 End of Watch Review


As a whole, the film is a somewhat uneven mix of static conversation scenes and hyper-tense suspense sequences.



End of Watch transports us (often first-hand) into the world of LAPD officers who patrol the gangland war zone that is South Central Los Angeles. Our guides on the journey are officers Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) and Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) – the latter of whom is documenting the life of a cop on film for a college course (hence the film’s uneven reliance on found-footage perspective – but more on that later).

As longtime friends and partners, Mike and Brian have faced the worst of South Central without fear; however, when a string of busts put the two patrolmen on the trail of a notorious Mexican cartel, Brian decides to follow the scent all the way down the rabbit hole. Before long, Mike and Brian find themselves in the crosshairs of the city’s worst criminals, turning an already dangerous job into a life or death battle in the streets.

Writer/director/producer David Ayer has made his name in the industry by delivering hard-boiled tales of crime in the LA streets. Many already know and love his written work, as Ayer provided scripts for films like Training DayDark Blue, S.W.A.T. and even The Fast and the Furious – a franchise which began as a look into the LA underworld of street racing. While his writing has been fairly lauded, his directorial work has pretty much been hit (Harsh Times) or miss (Street Kings), so the question is, where does End of Watch fall on that spectrum?

End of Watch starring Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal directed by David Ayer End of Watch Review

Despite what the marketing materials suggest, End of Watch is actually less of an action/thriller and more of a slow-burn character piece about two best friends living in a dangerous world. This is not to say the movie is not captivating or exciting – it often is – but it also stands as Ayer’s most mature and creative directorial effort thus far. By toying with the “found-footage” format, Ayer transports the audience right to the front line of being a police officer, staging many set pieces within the tight confines of houses or apartment complexes, thereby ramping up the tension as viewers experience (first-hand) the anxiety of every tight corner or length of hallway that might conceal a terrible threat. Much of the film can be compared to playing a 1st Person shooter video game – one that’s nerve wracking enough to get the blood pumping.

Because the found-footage format works so well in this context, it becomes an even bigger distraction that Ayer is not consistent with his use of the format. Sometime after a lengthy introduction and explanation for why the format is being employed, End of Watch chooses to deviate from that POV, switching to standard third-person camera techniques for certain scenes – sometimes alternating between both POV styles in the same scene. While not exactly a botched approach (from a directorial standpoint), the inconsistency in the POV style is nonetheless distracting and shows that, in terms of technique, Ayer still has a few wrinkles to smooth out.

Michael Pena Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Martinez in End of Watch End of Watch Review

Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘End of Watch’

Thankfully, the performances of the lead actors outweigh the stumbles in direction. Gyllenhaal and Peña are both capable leading men in their own right (Peña in particular has been criminally underrated in just about every film he’s done), and together, the two have infectious onscreen chemistry. Since much of the film rests on Brian and Mike out on patrol and swapping dude-talk, End of Watch could easily have been a bore. However, through a combination of Gyllenhaal’s signature ‘complicated charming guy’ likability and Peña’s proven comedic timing and sensibility, delving into Mike and Brian’s bromance is actually successful in making us care about these two men – and therefore, making us genuinely worry about them when put in harm’s way.

…And worry about them you most certainly will. As stated, Ayer manages to turn even the sunniest streets of South Central LA into a treacherous and frightening jungle, where seemingly nice, average houses reveal black-as-night hallways, and back rooms filled with nightmares ranging from half-mad junkies to sickening human trafficking to open graves piled high with dismembered bodies. If nothing else, this film is a solid PSA for NOT living in Los Angeles.

End of Watch Movie Reviews End of Watch Review

There are, also, some pretty fearsome predators roaming the streets – and the cartel baddies that Mike and Brian run afoul of are certainly frightening in their own right. This includes psychotic tattooed assassins like loudmouthed La La (Yahira Garcia), B.G. (baby gangsta) trainee, Demon (Richard Cabral) and their imposing leader “Big Evil” (Maurice Compte), whose nickname pretty much defines his character. As usual, Ayer provides insight into street gang culture that’s almost as interesting as watching the overarching story – especially when it comes to characters like rival gang leader, Mr. Tre (Cle Shaheed Sloan), whose twisted street ethics are a fascinating study in their own right.

Supporting cop characters are played by Frank Grillo (The Grey) and David Harbour (The Newsroom) - but with the exception of Cody Horn (Magic Mike) and America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) as two ‘tougher-than-the-boys,’ trash-talking lady cops, these characters aren’t that memorable (…maybe Harbour, but not for his acting as much as the gruesome fate of his character). Natalie Martinez (Death Race) and Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) play the ladies behind our heroic boys in blue – and while Kendrick has her usual cutesy charm, Martinez manages to steal many of the scenes she is in right out from under the other actors.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick in End of Watch End of Watch Review

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick in ‘End of Watch’

While there is evidence of much growth in Ayer as a director, End of Watch still leaves significant room for improvement. Aside from the confusing narrative approach to the film (that pesky POV switching), the story itself is almost too slow of a burn and often feels totally episodic, without major payoff. That’s to say: watching End of Watch is almost like viewing the condensed season of a cop procedural TV show – only the individual episodes don’t offer much self-contained development or payoff, while the larger serialized story takes far too long to develop and doesn’t tie together all of the threads introduced in each preceding “episode.” The action-packed ‘fight for their lives’ sequence shown in the trailers is but a bookend to the film, while the majority of time is spent on a (sometimes meandering) journey through the bowels of LA, albeit alongside two enjoyable guides.

As a ride-along movie, End of Watch provides a semi-fresh look at a stale genre and thoroughly-explored world; as a character piece, it invests time and attention in two interesting characters played by two capable leads; as a work of crime-drama or action-thriller genre filmmaking, however, End of Watch may disappoint those used to more run-n-gun fun, rather than the grounded, “verite” style Ayer creates. As a whole, the film is a somewhat uneven mix of static conversation scenes and hyper-tense suspense sequences; if Ayer can find a way to further streamline those discordant rhythms into a more harmonious whole, he will create some truly excellent (rather than just good) crime-drama cinema.

End of Watch is currently playing in theaters. It is Rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use.


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Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. Good review. I used to live in South Central. I was born there…… I live south of South Central now. He, he….

    I’m torn between End of Watch and Dredd.

    SR gives Dredd a 4 and EoW gets a 3.5.

    That’s a reverse of Rotten T. They rated EoW higher than Dredd.

    Hmmm…… I trust SR a LOT more than RT. But the LA location sets give EoW a bump for me. Decisions, decisions.

    • On the other hand, Metacritic rates End of Watch SIGNIFICANTLY higher than it does Dredd, so End of Watch appears to be the better movie.

      • I’ve never looked at Metacritic.

        I’ll check it out.

    • Sometimes I just check whether the movie is rotten or fresh. I just don’t trust RT anymore. It gives significantly high score for movies that don’t deserve it, IMO.

  2. I keep hearing a lot of good word of mouth reviews from this movie. I’m excited to check it out sometime this weekend

  3. Nausea… That’s what I got from this movie. A severe case of nausea. The characters were good, sure, but the verite goes to the mega extreme. this is the Blair Witch of South Central stories and I, for one, will never be recommending this film to anyone…


    • Coming from a Real LAPD COP that has worked many assignments with the LAPD including the GANG Unit, this movie is as real as it gets. If you were a COP then you’d think it was even better due to the police lingo and jokes. Think the movie is exagerated, come do a ride-along in the south end.

    • There seems to be a small percentage of people who have trouble with this shooting style. Luckily I’m not one of them because I think when used effectively it add a whole new cinematic experience. This movie does it well. I also think Cloverfield did also. Maybe you should try taking Dramamine before watching films like this, it might help. And then your friends wouldn’t miss out on good movie recommendations.

      • agree

        • The film content was good, but the constant shakey camera thing was nothing more than annoying. Afterwards you have a feeling of just stepping off of a ten hour boat ride or something similar. If you actually think about the (bad) cinematography more than three or four times while watching a film, it ruins the story.

  4. Anyone who says this isn’t a good movie has never been a cop! The portrayal of the characters are so real! It was like sitting with my partner bs through shift and waiting for calls! This movie was 10-4!!

  5. really really good emotional & entertaining movie. did not expect to be taken on such an emotional journey.

    i laughed, cried, was into the characters lives. dark, funny, real.

    • So true. I just got back from seeing this and loved it. One of the better films I have seen recently. To me, you know you are watching a good film if it makes you feel an emotion deep inside of you. Whether it’s good, bad, sad, happy, shocked, ect… This film made me feel.

  6. Just got back from watching this……… Let me just say one of the best movies I’ve seen this year :)

    • This movie truly depicts what coppers do and go through. Ive worked all the south end divisions including “Shootin Newton.” Great place to do Police work. Reminds me of My “Patna” and I. Coppers tend to be very critical about cop movies. This so far really is the best. Watch your Six Fellas…I’M EOW STRAIGHT HOME

  7. By the way, “Ayer”(David Ayer) as interpreted Spanish to English: “YESTERDAY” as those who know the differences among the three parallelisms of times; Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow…Yesterday as shown through various simple TV documentaries are too, in lieu of this movie, “End of Watch”, full of violence, drugs, hatreds, jealousies, the list grows and to why there are yet still wars in 2012…my visions for TOMORROW are still yet to happen, but it has been all of the Todays and Yesterdays, those top of the food chain lives who remain in these time periods are a constant stumbling block to the types of improvements for all the tomorrows that should more so occur.

  8. this movie was so predictable and basically sucked. sorry had to say. + they could have saved both of their lives at the end. grrr

    • You truly have no idea what you are talking about. and you need to put “SPOILER” in your postings for the future.

      • You should have stopped reading as Kofi was blowing it for us all but you could have stopped, if you had the will power.

        Brutal rewiew though, I agree there.

    • hey Belize, thanks alot for spoiling the movie for me i appreciate it. Your probably too much of a wuss to every do anything a cop would do.

    • What? What were you watching?

  9. @Belize
    Like I said previously those who have never been officers will never understand this movie to me and brothers is as real as it gets!

    • I seriously doubt you have ever gotten a missing persons call and walked into a house full of severed heads….go write another ticket and finish your quota.

      • And you’re a complete buffoon, now get the hell out.

  10. Kofi should read his own material.

    This movie was highly effective and might win Ayer an Oscar. There, I said it.

    I do think that most viewers (And Kofi) probably missed one of the key smaller story lines in the movie, that of the part of the FBI in the crackdown of the drug rings. The consequences of their decisions are ultimately tied to the fate of our characters.

    • @ Robert Urner – “of the key smaller story lines in the movie, that of the part of the FBI in the crackdown of the drug rings…” I completely agree with you. I thought about that on the way home. [SPOILER ALERT] Their inaction pissed me off! (Which I’m sure it was intended to do). Awesome movie, BTW.

  11. [SPOILER ALERT ... This entire posting has about 20 spoilers so please stop reading if you haven't seen this movie ... trust me, you don't want to ruin it!!!] ………..

    Is anyone else sad as heck now, after the final shoot-out scene? Makes me want to find another movie with you-know-who in it, just so I can see him again and know he’s “really okay after all”! Seriously though, totally bummed about the fate of that character. Did anyone else think of the totally violent Robocop shooting scene, when you-know-who was shot up real bad?

    And if you thought this movie was predictable, well, I think the predictable way to do that climax scene was to have a sniper or some other good guy take out the 4 baddies just before they shot up you-know-who. And frankly, when he started yelling for help (“officer needs help!!”) while trying to comfort his partner… I was focused on that, and how we were in the falling action after the climax … until it turned out the real climax was just about to happen. It totally caught me off guard when they snuck up behind him. Kudos to Ayer for that too.

    And, other than the surprise as to who was really fatally shot at the end, did you notice how you-know-who protected his partner unintentionally by taking all those bullets in the back? He was shielding him.

    Also, for all the crap that the two main guys took from the other cops (like the guy who made a complaint about them filming him), how cool was it that when they were in the thick of things, they were “on the same side”. You know who I’m talking about … the guy who got a knife stuck you-know-where. (Poor fella, I hope he sees a brighter future….. yes, pun intended)!

    4.95 stars out of 5.00 stars. Freakin’ awesome movie.

  12. I thought this was a great movie, except for the camera work. I wish they would have been consistent with either format. I preferred the first person work, because it really added to the action scenes and the intensity of the action clips.

    I think the pace was perfect. Although I am not a police officer, that is exactly what I would expect an officer’s day to be: pretty slow with the need to entertain each other, while developing deep bonds with your partner. I liked that a lot. It actually made the ending so emotional, I’m still affected by it two days later.

    I’d imagine it’s like this in Detroit right now

  13. Um, the reason the plot goes from normal dull day, then flashes into a quick paced action scene is because like a regular officers shift starts w/ roll call and nothing to do, we jump right into high stress calls and high risk car stops. Very good movie!!!

  14. This is the best movie I have seen in years. It goes from serious to funny to intense to funny to horrific to loving to funny to sad to intense ….etc. this movie was hands down awesome because you really do care about the two main characters. I edt the theatre with a mix of emotions. When I movie does that im alll in! 5 stars