Last week I finally got a chance to get back in the action of the Thursday Movie Picks Meme hosted by my friend Wanderer. This time around, the theme was police movies, and she had a lot of people contributing, myself included. When I was reading the other submissions, I quickly started to notice a few patterns. There were some films that seemed to be especially popular and kept showing up on various lists. Perhaps the most popular was The Departed (seriously, why am I the only one who didn't get the appeal of that film?). Hot Fuzz also proved to be an extremely popular choice as it kept popping up in several of the submissions, my own included. The other one I noticed seemed to be popular was one I'd never heard of: End of Watch. Everybody else seemed to like it and it just so happened that it was on Netflix, so I thought I'd give it a watch and see if it was any good.
End of Watch is certainly an unusual cop film, but in a way I found that actually worked to its advantage. The basic setup is pretty straight forward: there are two cops, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) who are paired together and much of the film is about their friendship. In that sense, it's like a typical buddy cop movie, only in this case a bit less linear. The typical structure of a buddy cop film goes something like this: two characters, usually men though exceptions like The Heat (two women) and Dredd (a man and a woman) exist, are unwillingly paired together by a stubborn chief.
These two buddy cops are polar opposites, usually one being the "wild" cop who doesn't play by the rules and the other being the uptight by the book officer. They can't stand each other at first but over the course of the film they have to work together to solve a crime leading to the gradual development of a mutual respect for each other and eventually a close friendship. Also, in many cases (exceptions like Dredd notwithstanding), the dynamic between the buddy cops replaces the role that might usually be filled by a love interest, meaning that from some angles buddy cop films can be read as homoerotic. Hot Fuzz had a lot of fun exaggerating that last part.
End of Watch isn't quite so simple in its structure. The two buddy cops are great characters but not always so easily distinguished. You don't have a clearly identified "wild" cop or "by the book" cop. You just have two cops who have their own strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and anxieties. That's also really what a lot of the film is about, just how these two guys interact. They don't bond together as find themselves working together to overthrow some drug kingpin. They just become closely aquainted because they have to spend so much time together. If anything, though, the relationship is not exclusive to these two, even if they are the main focus. Really, it's about a sense of camaraderie among the police force in general.
That's another thing that made this film interesting to see. End of Watch shows a whole other side of police work that you don't often see in other films. Hot Fuzz liked to emphasize the paperwork, but still put a lot of focus on the action. End of Watch hardly skips out on the action either, but those moments are spaced out and the focus is instead on the dull side of being a cop. A lot of being an officer is basically sitting around waiting for something to do, and it's not always going to be exciting. It's hardly that unusual for cops to receive prank calls, just look at the absurdly popular practice of "swatting", which is literally based around dorks prank calling 911 so that some YouTuber gets attacked by SWAT officers live on camera. Sometimes they're false alarms or strange cases that leave you wondering what the people involved were thinking (that one woman who reported her kids being "missing" when they were bound in duct tape in the closet certainly raised a few questions), and sometimes they're just so messed up that even the cops can't take it.
Honestly, I thought it was interesting to see this side of being a cop, instead of the more action-packed angle movies often take. These aren't the kinds of guys who will point a 44 magnum at your head and ask if you feel lucky, or who will fire their guns up in the air while screaming "ah". They're ordinary people given a specific responsibility and who often have to make difficult decisions and then deal with the consequences. It's often a boring job and they try to make the best of it, all while trying to accommodate their personal relationships. Jake Gyllenhaal makes for a very good lead in a film like this. In any other film he might have been the tough grizzled veteran but here he is shown to be far more human.
The rest of the cast is also very good as well. Ferarra and Davis might not have as much screen time compared to the two leads, but when they do show up they are a welcome addition. They seem to make quite a pair themselves, and I find myself with the sense that they are probably going through very much the same sorts of situations that Gyllenhaal and Peña are experiencing throughout. There is also Gyllenhall's girlfriend Janet, who for a love interest actually has a fair bit of depth, and Peña's equally interesting wife Gabby.
Adding to the non-conventional elements is the semi-documentary style that drives much of the film. It offers practically a first-person look into the life of a cop, and does actually manage to add a sense of realism (even if it can at times be disorienting). End of Watch is a very interesting experience and one that I think is worth recommending. As a police procedural, it offers something very unusual, and the kind of side to being a cop that you don't see in a movie like Dirty Harry or S.W.A.T.. The action is there and it is intense, but ultimately it's all about how being a police officer can be as boring as any other job. It's not all about stopping the crooks, it's also about making those tough calls and knowing when to act.