Top 10 films of 2012: End Of Watch

Feature Ryan Lambie
26 Dec 2012 - 09:14

David Ayer's cop drama End Of Watch made sixth place in our list of favourite 2012 films. Here's Ryan's take on it...

The latest in our film of the year countdown, as voted for by the entire writing team of Den Of Geek, is the superb End Of Watch. Here's why it made the list...

7th place:

End Of Watch

We've been here before. Two cops in a car, city streets full of criminals outside. Arrests. House searches. Fights. Chases. From Freebie And The Bean via 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon and beyond, the buddy-cop thriller has been parodied and raked over countless times over the past 40-or-so years. End Of Watch, however, brings with it enough energy, atmosphere and great writing to not only breathe life into the genre, but also make it one of the most unexpectedly powerful and memorable movies of 2012.

It helps that writer and director David Ayer has form in the genre. He wrote The Fast And The Furious, Training Day and Street Kings (which he also directed), which are all set in Los Angeles, all concerned with cops on the line of duty in one capacity or another, and often contain odd-couple pairings, whether it's Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast And The Furious, or Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in Training Day.

End Of Watch is an amalgam of those earlier movies, in that it both compresses so many elements from both within the genre and without into its 109 minutes, yet emerges as something entirely different; although it's a thriller, it isn't tautly structured like one, its events alternating loosely between moments of drama and jabs of abrupt violence. It achieves something quite rare in movies about law enforcement: it highlights the sheer unpredictability of the job.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña star as Taylor and Zavala, a pair of officers on the beat in South Central Los Angeles.  Their days generally involve long cruises in their patrol car,  making house calls and pulling over suspicious drivers. Years in service together have left them with a fraternal respect for one another, and they liven up the often tedious stretches of their jobs by alternately ribbing each other and discussing their love lives.

Their good-humour also serves as a way of relieving the tense anticipation of what the next radio call will bring. Whether it's the bloody aftermath of a drive-by shooting or the home of a pair of drug addicted parents who claim to have lost their young son, End Of Watch establishes early on that peril can lurk behind every closed door and situation.

Ayer plays fast and loose with the conventions of the found-footage movie, capturing his action with mobile phones and patrol car cameras. Perspective will sometimes abruptly shift from a first-person viewpoint to an entirely new one, giving the impression of a documentary spliced together from multiple sources. While some of these sudden changes are a little jarring, they also add greatly to the sense of immediacy; some scenes are so full of foreboding that End Of Watch almost spills into out-and-out horror in places. One routine search, in particular, has an almost apocalyptic atmosphere, and its fall-out has  far-reaching consequences for Taylor and Zavala.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña's performances are little short of riveting throughout. The two actors trained for five months for their roles, and that commitment shows; not only do they convince as a pair of jaded cops, but there's also a palpable chemistry between them, too. Their turns give the film an added layer of authenticity, as well as a pang of dread when their characters become the targets of a vicious Latino gang.

While praise for End Of Watch hasn't been unanimous - some have found its handy-cam style distracting, and it has to be said that the film's sweary antagonists are thinly drawn at best. But for all its flaws, the film remains an impressive, engrossing achievement - it's remarkable that Ayer managed to get it made at all, in a filmmaking system that is becoming increasingly averse to adult drama such as this.

End Of Watch is by turns funny, tense and unpredictable. Its quality has seen it cut through a year crowded with expensive and sometimes brilliant mainstream movies; there are whispers that Oscar nominations might be in the offing. For the strength of its depiction of two cops in a horribly dangerous job - one many of us would never have the nerve to take on - it surely deserves some awards season attention.

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