I thought I'd seen and heard it all in my 13 years as a film critic. The rustling of lolly packets. The people who talk through the entire film. The nitwits who actually answer their phones. The teenage hanky-panky in the back row. The fainters in the Saw and Paranormal Activity films.
But in the 2000-odd films I've seen and reviewed over that time, not once have I seen someone lose their lunch in the movies. You'd think it would happen more often. I'm surprised it didn't happen in Freddy Got Fingered or those Jackass movies.
Well, it finally happened in End of Watch, a stomach- churning account of two uniform cops on the beat in LA. Was it the Blair Witch Project level of shaky hand-held camera work? Was it one of the many shock-moments of unsuspecting gore, including a knife to the eye of one poor cop? Or was the poor person already feeling poorly?
I'd like to think the latter. But I suspect the former, because this fly-on-the-wall thriller plays like a punch to the guts (or a knife to the eye). The jolting visuals lurch from one violent sequence to the next, and the dialogue is a deluge of expletive-riddled trash talk. This is an ugly, distasteful film.
That said, for those who can stomach it, End of Watch is not entirely without critical merit, and has a few redeeming features.
After their first justified shooting, LAPD partners and best friends Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Pena) are transferred to a tough, largely Mexican-American district neighbourhood. They rescue children from abusive mothers and house fires. They clash with Latino and Afro-American gangsters. They stumble upon a house full of dismembered bodies. And so it goes.
Who wants to be a cop, hey?
There's no real story here, but rather a ride-along account of their run-ins - almost COPS-style - on LAs mean streets. There's an improbably high number of life-and-death situations for such a short time period. It seems like depressingly little has changed in LA since Colours, which End of Watch most resembles.
Writer-director David Ayre should know. He spent his teenage years in South Central LA. It obviously had a huge affect on him, because he went on to write (and now direct) movies set solely in LA and almost solely about LA cops (including Training Day, S.W.A.T. and Street Kings). That's quite a specific perp sheet. And he brings a gritty realism to the ride-along here, from the trash-talking cops to the snaky street trash that taunt them, to the tension of not knowing what's around the corner.
And given the abundance of films about dirty cops (especially dirty LA cops), it's refreshing to see one about two tough, honest, courageous and essentially good cops.
So good, in fact, that a Mexican cartel operating in LA orders a hit against Taylor and Zavala.
Gyllenhaal, sporting a beefy body and shaved scone, puts in one of his more charismatic performances. He also shares an easy chemistry with Pena, a terrific character actor who steps into a lead role with ease here. America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) and rising star Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Grey) give solid support. Their performances are a shining light amid all the darkness here.
Sadly, the gangster-baddies are your usual array of nasty no-name Latinos and Afro-Americans. And the implausible twist ending is the final cherry on top that your stomach will reject.Speaking of which, I hope that poor person feels better now.