Alright, I’m just gonna start out with saying that, this movie was completely awesome. It blew me away, seriously. I went into it with no expectations except that ol Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t usually let you down (well…’cept maybe for Bubble Boy….) and that Michael Pena was on The Shield for a bit, and that was arguably the best cop show ever made and probably always will be. So I figured I was in for a good time. But damn dude, this movie was just fantastic. I don’t need to do a plot summary on this one, for gods sake sometimes I ramble on and freakin’ on and on about those in some of these reviews anyways, but with those one, I don’t need to really, because the plot takes a backseat to the characters. And guess what? That is awesome. Fantastic even. You have to have a near perfect set of actors to make a movie more about the characters than the plot, and movies like Drive, Blue Valentine, No Country for Old Men (not linking that one cuz everyone should know it, it won a million Oscars after all), and Reservoir Dogs all come to mind when I think about character-driven movies. Guess what? All of those movies are incredible. Blue Valentine and Drive are two of the best movies of the past five years, and End of Watch almost makes that mark as well.
So what we have here, is essentially a buddy cop film. Not a stupid, pointless drivel piece of garbage movie like any Rush Hour or featuring the god awful Martin Lawrence who is not funny and never has been (The summer Big Momma’s House 2 was the #1 movie of the summer in America, I lost a great portion of my faith in humanity) in trainwreck movies like Blue Streak or National Security (though I’ll admit, Nothing to Lose was pretty great with his untalented ass in it…), but an actual, well-written, sometimes funny but mostly serious, honest-to-god buddy cop film. The chemistry between Pena and Gyllenhaal was incredible, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these guys had been lifelong friends and just magically got cast in this movie together, they were great together. Some hilarious moments are created just with the two of them patrolling around, and indeed some of the best moments of the film come from us just being shown this on screen:
They are the ones that make this film work, although the women in their lives, the gorgeous Anna Kendrick from Up in the Air, yet another of the best movies of the past five years, and Natalie Martinez who plays Pena’s long suffering wife, although it is definitely established that any wife of a cop who works the beat in South Central is long-suffering, are pretty great as well. Gyllenhaal (he really DOES spell his name with two A’s there at the end, I double checked) is pretty much channeling some of his character from Jarhead, in fact there were a few moments that I felt like it was the same character, this was what he would have done when he got out of the Marines, became a cop in South Central. These two are somewhat simple character archetypes – they are brash, they are overconfident, yet deep down, they are heroes. There aren’t any anti-heroes in this one, and for once, I didn’t even mind.
So what’s the movie about? Well, essentially just their daily lives as cops. A true plot doesn’t even come to form until about an hour in, and we don’t even mind because we are having a good time following these two around, and watching Brian (Gyllenhaal) finally find a woman that he can “talk” to, because Pena’s character often tells him how smart he is and that he’ll never find his equal. He does in Janet (Kendrick), and the wedding scenes with them are wonderful, some of the best in the movie, because it really shows that when you are a cop you are part of a true family, the comradery we see here is great and hell, almost made me want to sign up to be a pig (just kidding, I just called them pigs again, didn’t I? Stupid cops). It all works, and makes us truly care for these characters.
So naturally since we care about em so stinkin’ much, we have to have them get thrown in peril. And that we do, when they run afoul (love that term) of a cartel that is trying to ship a fairly massive amount of drugs and….other things (won’t spoil it) into South Central. There isn’t a whole lot of action in this movie until the very end, but just like I said this isn’t your traditional (lame) buddy cop movie, nor is this an action movie. This isn’t the next Departed, this movie is really a bird all of its own, and in the hands of a less gifted director, it could have fallen flat on its face. But with David Ayer, who directed the movie that gave Denzel his Oscar, Training Day (though I still contend that Man on Fire was a better movie…lost a good one in Tony Scott, we did), I was pretty sure we were going to be alright. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie are incredibly tense and well-directed, and the main reason is because we love these characters so much, we want them to be ok, we want these heroes to prevail. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t usually like a movie with these good guy stereotypes, these “honest, hard-working American” DUDEZ that succeed in the end. We know I love the anti-hero, the ones who are flawed, and hell, might even have a bit of evil in them. Because folks, we all DO have a little bit of evil in us. But these two don’t seem to have a whole lot, and because of their acting, I didn’t care about that, I just really wanted them to make it out ok.
I’m not going to spoil the ending and what happens, but I will say that this was the first movie to make me tear up in quite a while, the ending scenes were intense and funny right at the end, which is great this movie left you laughing and not with a hollow feeling at the end, just another testament to the brilliant direction it had. But the comradery of being a cop is on full display again, and man….this was just a brilliant movie. They simply don’t make cop movies like this, there hasn’t been one that has affected me this much since The Departed, and the fact that I can mention that masterpiece of cinema with this one in the same sentence means you should probably go see it immediately. I’m handing down my first four star verdict for this one folks. It isn’t going to get any Oscar nods for its leading men, I’m not sure if its that type of movie, but damn if it isn’t a great ride and a cop movie I will be comparing others to for a very long time to come.