Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘End of Watch’: It’s Time for Some Cop-Appreciation

August 14, 2020 Updated: August 14, 2020

R | | Action, Crime, Drama | 21 September 2012 (USA)

“End of Watch” (EOW) is the last thing a police officer writes in his logbook after noting the day’s policing activities. Then he goes home. Hopefully, he goes home. If he doesn’t go home … that’s also called an end of watch.

two police officers in squad car in "End of Watch"
Jake Gyllenhaal (L) and Michael Peña as police partners in their squad car in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

So explains director David Ayer in the EOW press notes. Best known for his dirty-cop film “Training Day,” the very authentic 2012-released “End of Watch” most likely had the Los Angeles Police Department breathing a collective sigh of relief that someone finally told their story in a positive light.

This well-rendered if brutal portrait is a welcome counterweight to the seemingly endless stream of Hollywood paeans to corrupt-cop life in the USA, not to mention, in 2020—America’s current cop crisis.

On the Job

Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are partners. They love their jobs. South Central L.A. is easily the most dangerous location in America for the police, but they’re to-the-manor-born and on the job with enthusiasm.

two cadets shake hands at police academy graduation in "End of Watch"
Jake Gyllenhaal (L, shaking hands) and Michael Peña as police-officer partners who are marked for death after confiscating money and firearms from a cartel in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

Their world shifts from hilarious practical jokes in the squad room to heart-stopping, potentially deadly encounters with local gangs with enough firepower to equip a small army, and back to brotherly banter in the squad car in the blink of an eye.

two cops and two gang members shoot it out in "End of Watch"
Jake Gyllenhaal (L) as Brian Taylor faces down heavily armed L.A. gangbangers in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

Taylor and Zavala function like any well-practiced, experienced special operations team that has been tempered in combat—they’re ready to die for each other.

When they search an SUV and Zavala narrowly avoids getting blasted by the driver’s 9 mm handgun, it’s reminiscent of the hair-trigger reflexes of a mongoose avoiding a lethal cobra strike, and then pinning the snake in the blink of an eye. It has the same ferocious yet casual confidence. These are metaphorical cop black-belts.

two cops, one holds AK-47 in "End of Watch"
Michael Peña (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal confiscate an illegal AK-47 from cartel gang members in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

One quickly comes to appreciate the talent required for this dangerous job. Highly competent cops, like all true war fighters, have restless Type A personalities. They’re energetic and aggressive normally, but with an ability to shift to a preternatural calm in the high-stress situations that typically cause hysteria in civilians. While they youthfully relish their roles as ghetto gunfighters, all of this is truly informed by a desire to do the right thing.

police and firemen rescue people from burning building in "End of Watch"
Michael Peña (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal are first responders along with the LAFD in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

Officer Taylor carries a video camera everywhere, making his own homegrown version of the TV show “Cops” (which ran from March 1989 to May 11, 2020). Much like the movie “Chronicle,” where the lead character chronicles everything with a hand-held cam, this sign-of-the-times cultural shift was already well in place in 2012. It’s now morphed into a nonstop (mostly) millennial state of being: the endless recording of the movie of one’s life, that one is starring in, to be displayed on social media.

two cops with a video camera in "End of Watch"
Michael Peña (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal shoot footage of their cop lives in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

This is not your father’s LAPD. These kids say “dude” every other sentence, play ear-splitting rap in the cop-cruiser, and quip funny asides at the camera, like, “Being a cop is all about comfortable footwear.” They beat 100-degree heat by surreptitiously sticking their heads in open beverage coolers in neighborhood bodegas.

two cops in a bodega in "End of Watch"
Michael Peña (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal as LAPD cops getting ready to escape from the heat by sticking their heads in a bodega freezer, in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

Director Ayer, who grew up in South Central, captures the atmosphere with lots of smoggy sunrises and sunsets. Anna Kendrick, as Taylor’s fiancée, is always a revelation. Peña and Gyllenhaal have highly enjoyable bickering chemistry. The rest of the cast, including TV’s “Ugly Betty” star, America Ferrera, are all highly effective in portraying LAPD culture.

Female police officer investigates shooting in "End of Watch"
America Ferrera (Front, R) investigates a homicide as L.A. Latino gang members look on, in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

The drama inherent in cop-corruption stories is low-hanging fruit. It’s easy and it sells, which is why Hollywood does so much of it. As Ayer points out, there’s also riveting tension in a situation where good cops do life-and-death things all day, then come home at their end of watch, fit into everyday society, and work hard to make their relationships normal.

man and woman and baby in "End of Watch"
Michael Peña and Natalie Martinez as husband and wife welcoming their firstborn in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

This is a super-gritty, ultra-violent, hyper-expletive-ridden, and often very funny film. See it only if you have a stomach strong enough to deal with the very disturbing scenes involving gangland violence, hard drugs, and human trafficking.

two cops flee cartel gunfire in "End of Watch"
Michael Peña (L) and Jake Gyllenhaal play LAPD cops escaping gang gunfire in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/Open Road Films)

If nothing else, “End of Watch” is a first-rate lesson in law-enforcement appreciation. And in this time of virulent law-enforcement non-appreciation, “End of Watch” has the ability to inspire us to really think about the fact that anarchy is slowly setting in worldwide, and what the lay of the land is realistically going to look like in our current cop-cancel culture and looming lawlessness.

cartel member firing automatic weapons in "End of Watch"
Los Angeles-based drug cartel gang members open fire on the police in “End of Watch.” (Scott Garfield/ Open Road Films)

‘End of Watch’
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, America Ferrera, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 21, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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