End of Watch Blu-ray Review: Or, Training Day 2

At its core, End of Watch is a gritty buddy cop movie. Lots of buzzwords leap out of the packaging like “Great” and “Powerful” and “Gripping,” and it is definitely all of these things. Personally, there were a few details that were overlooked to tie the whole package together, though. It’s a good flick, don’t get me wrong, but for the pretense it builds, in a couple areas it doesn’t fully measure up.

Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are LAPD partners assigned to one of the worst, most gang-violence ridden parts of south central Los Angeles. Between chases and shootouts, they engage in clever banter, witty racial insults, and other bits of humor that add some humanity to the otherwise grim beat they patrol.

They run afoul of some gangstas and drug fiends and human traffickers, but not in some specifically bigger-picture coordinated way — it’s just a crappy part of town where crappy things happen. They know when it’s okay to bend the rules a little bit for the greater good. In one instance, Mike gets into some fisticuffs with a suspect, then lets him off with a reduced charge so he’ll spread the word that the cops aren’t out to harass or profile — they just want to help make the neighborhood safer for everyone by weeding out the unsavory elements. Interactions off duty with wives Gabby (Natalie Martinez) and Janet (Anna Kendrick) show the softer side of these boys in blue, as well as the strain that cleaning up the streets puts on relationships back home.

All this is told through a variety of camera techniques, including Brian’s handi-cam clipped to his shirt, the dash cam in the police cruiser, surveillance cameras, and footage from citizens in the vicinity. It gives the story a more in-the-moment feel, but invites one major headache (literally) for me, which is that whenever anything remotely exciting happens, the camera shakes and flaps all over the place, making it hard to know what’s going on and easy to develop a migraine. I had to look away from the screen a few times, not because of the violence, but because the inside of my head was screaming.

There are some pretty tough moments to watch and things to see in the story, including the human trafficking depictions, brutal assaults by criminals, and vicious gunplay. If you saw writer/director David Ayer’s Training Day, you’ll have some idea what to expect in terms of how raw it can get. It’s not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for someone seeking puppies and kittens and happy endings and rainbows. These guys are in the shit more often than not.

After a couple of lucky raids based largely on hunches or reports about something totally unrelated, the kingpin behind a drug cartel operating in the area puts a bounty on the heads of Brian and Mike. What doesn’t work for me about this is that he’s targeting two cops who just got lucky a couple of times. It’s not like they’re building a case and scraping together evidence and getting close to solving some puzzle that will reveal the identity or location of person pulling the strings. This isn’t Riggs and Murtaugh slowly piecing together a case against their nemesis. Brian and Mike are just doing their jobs, yet here we go with the “I want those two dead” nonsense. And so it goes with the big showdown between some local thugs and our intrepid heroes.

This particular Blu-ray also includes the DVD, digital copy, and Ultraviolet versions, and supports the Pocket BLU app. The BD looks and sounds sharp in HD, despite the many different camera types/perspectives used. Also included are five behind-the-scenes featurettes and feature commentary with writer/director David Ayer. They definitely threw in just about everything you could want.

If you liked Falling Down, Ladder 49, or Training Day, give End of Watch a look. Just remember to bring a strong stomach and some Dramamine for the ride.

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Mark Buckingham

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