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Review: City of Angels (End of Watch)

Consider this the break from David Ayer's dirty cop trilogy. While Training Day, Harsh Times, and Street Kings all feature figures who use the system to line their pockets and eventually are brought down by their hubris. What End of Watch represents is a fresh perspective on the cop genre not marked by stereotypes. Officers Taylor and Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) aren't fresh-faced rookies, though not worn down by the job either. Each man has come to the job with hopes that the job would bring a sense of financial stability and honor to their lives. It's a drastic shift for Ayer, and one that is appreciated.

Coming off of a kill deemed clean by the D.A., Taylor and Zavala are back on shift in America's most divisive police unit: the Los Angeles Police Department. They are regarded as cowboys and there is no love lost between them and fellow officers in the unit. Their reputation will be tested as a routine traffic stop turns into a running conflict with one of LA's most dangerous cartels.

Where End of Watch breaks away from most cop film is the point of view shots Ayer uses. The difficulty when using p.o.v. is that often the viewer becomes acclimated to the vantage point and the visceral thrill is gone shortly thereafter. However, End of Watch does not suffer from that drawback at all. Much like the lifestyle of a patrol office, we are exposed to the minute details of making stops for energy drinks, morning briefings and locker room chats. Sure there are the shoot-outs, but what keeps the thrill alive of those scenes are the intimate moments where Gyllenhaal and Peña are not in the line of fire.

Perhaps the most affecting scene of the film takes place at a wedding where Taylor and Zavala are nursing their drinks at a bar quietly reflecting on how far they would go for one another. When Zavala promises if anything happens to Taylor he will look after his wife, the pain on Taylor's face as he recognizes that his experiences as a Marine leave him far more ready for those consequences than his partner is almost as hard for us as it is for him.

Few leads have a rapport as strong as the one Gyllenhaal and Peña have built for this film. While the dialogue and bravado between officers clangs around, it's these two men that keep the core of Watch from ever fading. The relationship developed during the beginning of the film is not cast away in favor of gun-toting which only makes the final twenty minutes one of the most harrowing conclusions of the year.

***/****

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