Wednesday, January 18, 2017

End Of Watch

"I am the police, and I'm here to arrest you.
You've broken the law.
I did not write the law.
I may disagree with the law but I will enforce it.
By law I am unable to walk away.
Behind my badge is a heart like yours.
I bleed, I think, I love, and yes I can be killed. We are the police."

The concentration here on The War Film Blog is of course the war genre. Law Enforcement films are another dramatic sub-genre that remain a personal favorite, but this isn't The Police Film Blog. Hmmm. Nevertheless, life for the law enforcement officer on the urban streets has become increasingly difficult and in some cases tantamount to a war zone.

Writer and director David Ayer's End Of Watch (2012) captures a glimpse of the ever-increasing evidence that war-like elements are bleeding into our urban centers and across our borders as a result of drug-running and the weapons trade. More and more law enforcement in America, for all the knocks on it by rabble-rousing political groups, are faced with policing and patrolling our nation's neighborhoods more heavily armed and equipped than ever before to keep us safe.

America no longer lives in the world of Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963) and Adam-12 (1968-1975). And those that would decry racism against our officers in blue would should look past the uniform at the melting pot of men and women who wear them with pride. The harsh times and mean streets have forced our officers to shoulder the very tough reality of even meaner streets.

Our law enforcement has become the front line right here in the United States against a criminal element that is more organized and dangerous than ever. End Of Watch provides a glimpse of how some places in the good old USA have become war torn streets of extreme gang violence, human trafficking and a lethally-assembled and organized drug trade.

The film is mediated through the eyes of two street cops working South Central Los Angeles who experience as much horror as the soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Actors Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners) and the underrated Michael Pena literally take us on a tour of the South Central beat cop thanks to a terrific and authentic script by Ayer. Gyllenhaal's character, officer Brian Taylor, even notes as much.

"Not every call's a foot pursuit or a car chase. Some guys at other agencies have never even drawn their weapon or been in a gun fight. In the South end, we'll get involved in more capers in one deployment period than most cops see their entire career."

Additionally these characters are far from the cartoonish, despicable dirty cop portrayals often associated with today's news media, contemporary cinema or even Ayer's own previous Training Day (2001) outing as embodied by Denzel Washington's Detective Alonzo Harris. These are good cops infused with integrity performing a duty to uphold the law. Much of the opening narration (see notable dialogue below) exemplifies that mission. These officers are brothers and putting their lives on the line whilst on duty and away from those they love. End Of Watch is the antithesis of many of today's cop films that serve as reminders that the days of Adam-12 are apparently well over. Not so with End Of Watch.

Ayer took a good deal of heat for his direction and writing on DC's Suicide Squad (2016), but the man has his moments. Ayer has provided a number of entertaining scripts in Jonathan Mostow's U-571 (2000) and Antoine Fuqua's award-winning Training Day (2001). Ayer focused on the law enforcer as soldier and walked that line for Dark Blue (2002) featuring Kurt Russell, S.W.A.T. (2003), Harsh Times (2005) with Christian Bale and Street Kings (2008) with varying levels of acclaim and criticism. Taking what seemed like an extended hiatus Ayer returned with End of Watch arguably his most accomplished and assured project to date. And Sabotage (2014) was a mere taster before Ayer stepped over the thin blue line into the war genre with Fury (2014). Along with End Of Watch, Fury consolidated Ayer's talent where his production, direction and writing talents are at the top of their game.

End Of Watch received some knocks for its final act which plays extensively like a war sequence on the streets of Los Angeles.

Ayer may play with artistic license here, but who can argue against such a reality unfolding in the 21st century? It's not as if Los Angeles hasn't had its fair share of forays into mad violence and startling events involving high-powered weapons.

Apart from the very real fact gang members are utilizing weapons such as the Russian-made AK-47 as their weapons of choice on the mean streets of California, LA has seen a number of significant crime dramas unfold that remain historic.

Take if you will the Battle of North Hollywood (1997) with the Los Angeles Police Department as a clear example of what officers face. The said event was strikingly similar to the bank robbery sequence filmed for Michael Mann's Heat (1995). This alone was stunning as it unfolded on television and is a perfect demonstration of war on America's streets for the law enforcement officer as law enforcement soldier.

That event saw two bank robbers armed to the hilt with illegally modified automatic weapons. Modified AK-47s, a Bushmaster XM15 Dissipator, HK-91 rifles with high capacity drum magazines and Beretta 92FS pistols complete with homemade body armor. Attempting to uphold the law on the other side, the L.A.P.D. was fitted with 9mm pistols, .38 special revolvers and a few 12-guage shotguns. Officers were completely outmatched and outgunned. This is real war in the urban centers.

The shootout took approximately 45 minutes and was one of the longest and bloodiest in American police history with twenty injuries and ending in the death of the two perpetrators, Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu.

So Ayer's presentation of the gritty demands on today's police officer are not unfounded and End Of Watch results in credible, essential filmmaking. Does End Of Watch condense much of the brutal action experienced by an officer over the course of a lengthier time frame into just two hours? Of course. it's a film, a moving picture.

There are moments throughout End Of Watch where today's cinema-verite styled guerilla filming or documentary-styled approach are in ample play, but Ayer never overdoes that approach. As a writer unimpressed with gimmick approaches to filmmaking like Hardcore Henry (2016) it was refreshing to experience Ayer's use of restraint. There are moments the director directly places us inside the action and experience of the officer, but camera work is rarely distracting and mostly effective throughout the story.

Fans of America's men and women in blue and great nonfiction filmmaking owe it to themselves to own this film. End Of Watch may not be a war film in the strictest sense, but life on the streets for today's law enforcement officer has never felt more like a war than it does today in some precincts. Ever hear the term Chi-raq for Chicago, Illinois? There's a reason for it.

The men and women on the streets may be imperfect, we all are, but these are the extensively trained good guys and there are a lot of bad guys out there for which they must contend. Remember the police aren't them. End Of Watch reminds us of it.

End Of Watch.
Writer: David Ayer.
Director: David Ayer.

The War: The streets of Los Angeles (21st Century).

What Critics Had To Say:

Rotten Tomatoes assigned End Of Watch an 85% tomato. Apart from critics who took issue with Ayer's work as a director many critics noted the positives. One critic wrote quite fittingly, "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."

Roger Ebert penned a review at Ebert applied 4 (out of 4) stars to the film calling it "one of the best police movies in recent years, a virtuoso fusion of performances and often startling action. ... It's inspiring to realize that these men take their mission — to serve and protect — with such seriousness they're willing to risk their lives."

My greatest disagreement was with writer Kenneth Brown's rendering of the picture at The War Film Blog simply didn't experience the problems with End Of Watch Brown encountered. Not recommending a purchase of the film, Brown took issue with Ayer's "indulgent" direction, but called "Sixty percent of End Of of the best films of 2012." Oh well. He's not alone many critics found the direction distracting.

The War Film Blog stands by the film. Despite its few flaws the film offers an honest, gripping portrait of police life and camaraderie. It's a welcome piece of cinema within the sub-genre. It comes highly recommended.

Notable Dialogue.

"I am the police, and I'm here to arrest you. You've broken the law. I did not write the law. I may disagree with the law but I will enforce it. No matter how you plead, cajole, beg or attempt to stir my sympathy. Nothing you do will stop me from placing you in a steel cage with gray bars. If you run away I will chase you. If you fight me I will fight back. If you shoot at me I will shoot back. By law I am unable to walk away. I am a consequence. I am the unpaid bill. I am fate with a badge and a gun. Behind my badge is a heart like yours. I bleed, I think, I love, and yes I can be killed. And although I am but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me. They will lay down their lives for me and I them. We stand watch together. The thin-blue-line, protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police."

What Drew Me To The Film:

This writer has always enjoyed quality interpretations of the world of law enforcement in television and film (NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Colors). Hailing from a family with a good number of those employed in blue I was often fascinated by how police were represented by the 44th President of the United States, and covered by today's press and media often times sensationally.

There are plenty unrealistic portraits of criminal justice out there, but when a series or a film is done right like End Of Watch it is a sobering experience that deserves recognition.

This writer grew up on Adam-12 and CHiPs and my love and respect of law enforcement and law enforcement in TV and film endures.

You will likely indulge my police diversions here at The War Film Blog from time to time. Truth be told, this writer equates the American soldier and the American law enforcement officer on similar planes and often on equal footing and in the same breath when it comes to a show of respect. Most are incredibly brave and both often perform honorably at home and abroad. These men and women are America's first and only line of defense. God bless them all.
Beware Image Spoilers.

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