It's never easy being a cop. But in some parts of the country, the job is harder than others.
Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala patrol one of the toughest regions of Los Angeles—neighborhoods brimming with drugs and guns and violence. They don't begrudge the work. In fact, they kind of like it. They see themselves as the good guys, keeping the forces of evil at bay through courage, savvy and sound detective work.
They know each day on the street could be their last. And they've lately become especially aware of that little fact. It's a routine noise complaint that starts it all. When they arrive, they encounter a guy named Big Evil and a backyard full of ne'er-do-wells. The next morning, Brian and Mike stake out Big Evil's house, bust a visitor for hanging a CD from his rearview mirror and uncover a cache of cash buried in a pot of chili. They also find an automatic weapon. A later raid reveals half-dressed people huddled behind a curtain—part of a human trafficking ring.
Here's the thing. Big Evil and his crew are linked with a vicious cartel south of the border—a cartel known for beheading its enemies and littering highways with body parts. Now this cartel is trying to do big business in the big city not really known for its angels, and who's in the way? Two go-getters in policeman blue.
By both chance and design, Brian and Mike have poked a dragon—one that devours its enemies like fire eats tinder. Their mission is to protect and serve others. But who's going to protect them?
End of Watch is about family—the kind of family that comes about when people spend day after day riding in the same squad car, eating the same bad food and fighting for the same cause. Mike and Brian come from different cultures and backgrounds, but they consider themselves brothers. Mike served as Brian's best man; Brian goes to all the parties Mike's relatives so often throw. "I would lay down my life for you," an inebriated Brian tells Mike at the aforementioned wedding. Mike tells Brian that if Brian should fall during the line of duty, he'd take care of his widow.
"You got my back?" one will say to the other. The other always says yes.
And that familial relationship doesn't just extend from one partner to the other. End of Watch suggests that the police force itself is a family: When one member is wounded, the rest hurt. When one member is wronged, the rest seek justice. It's a dynamic this film stresses with stark, bloody poignancy. The Godfather, Scarface and dozens of other mafia- and gang-based movies tell us about how strong crime-family ties are. But we sometimes forget that the same sorts of ties—even better ones—can bind the good guys together too. This movie reminds us.
Brian and Mike are heroes, and they're recognized as such. We see them rescue two kids who've been tied and gagged in a closet. They rescue three more from a burning building. They really believe they're doing good work, and every day for them is about making a difference.
Mike is no saint, as we shall see. But he does cling to a semblance of faith. And he tells Brian that marriage is a commitment before God—so sacred a promise that it should never be messed with.
A fellow officer snidely refers to Brian and Mike as "street gods" and tells them they're doing "the Lord's work." An officer encourages his partner by saying, "God loves cops." In the credits, the moviemakers salute police officers with, "God bless you all."
A killer crosses himself before he tries to gun down members of a rival gang. Houses and apartments sometimes boast crosses or religious paintings. A couple of these abodes hold makeshift shrines filled with small, kitschy and not overtly religious statues. A funeral is held at a church.
Brian and girlfriend Jenna passionately make out on his bed. The next morning, she picks up a video camera and confesses to it that she can't believe she stayed over; she rifles through Brian's wallet, uncovers a list of girls' names and phone numbers, and tosses it aside, telling the camera he won't be needing those anymore.
The two get married and dance sultrily at their after-wedding party. Mike's wife, Gabby, tells Jenna that she'll have to have sex with Brian all the time to keep him satisfied—describing a bevy of creative and sometimes outlandish sexual tricks she can use to keep him interested.
Before getting married, Brian tells Mike how his typical relationships go: "First date is dinner and a respectful kiss," he says. "Second date is dinner and full carnal knowledge." He says that he and his newest girl will continue to have sex a few more times before he gets bored and moves on. Mike, conversely, tells Brian that both he and his wife have only been with each other, sexually speaking—but that they got started before their vows (in high school). He tells a story about how he and Gabby were about to "do it" when Gabby's parents came home; he hid under a bed naked, and Gabby's parents proceeded to have their own (creative) sex above him.
Gang members solicit a female dancer. And it's a woman with a fistful of money who eventually gets her to cozy up. The two kiss passionately. Women dress provocatively. References are made to prostitution. A joke is made of Brian wanting to have sex with the police captain.
End of Watch is, in its own way, a war movie, and an R-rated one at that. As such, we see many, many acts of violence—some of them grotesque.
One cop winds up with a knife in his eye socket. (We see the handle protruding from his skull.) Another has her face sliced to ribbons. (We see her cheeks covered with bloody wounds.) Still others are shot repeatedly, one coughing up blood as he fades out of consciousness.
Multiple shootings and shootouts terminate in bloody spatter on walls or car windows. One follows a wild car chase. Brian and Mike bash their way into a home and immediately smell what they assume is a dead body. Turns out, it's several bodies—beheaded and disassembled. We see the heads, the limbs and copious amounts of smeared blood.
When a belligerent man tells Mike that he wouldn't be so tough without his badge, Mike engages him in a long, drawn-out fistfight. Officers joke about shooting someone and roughing up criminals.
Crude or Profane Language
End of Watch isn't the most profane movie in cinematic history, but it makes a serious run at the record. Characters utter at least 325 f-words, nearly 100 s-words and scads of other obscenities, vulgarities, profanities and epithets, in English and Spanish. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "n-gger," "p‑‑‑," "d‑‑k," "pr‑‑k" and "h‑‑‑." God's name is abused 10 or 12 times, as often as not paired with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused six or eight times. Obscene gestures are made.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see drug stashes on occasion. People are shown smoking marijuana. (One woman lights up in front of a cop, who slaps her with a reprimand.) Officers search for what they refer to as "all the food groups: dope, money and guns." We hear about how someone "smells like weed and sneakers." We see a sign that mocks the U.S. war on drugs.
The good guys are affected by substance abuse too. Mike, Brian and many others get drunk at parties. Jenna sings along with a song playing on the car stereo, repeating lyrics about getting high.
"Do you feel like a hero?" Brian asks Mike after the two receive medals for rescuing the kids from the fire.
"No," Mike says.
"Me neither," Brian says. "What's a hero feel like?"
Well, if this movie is any indication, not very good. At least not in the moment.
End of Watch is intended to be a salute to those most of us would consider to be true heroes—our police officers who help draw the line between us and the bad guys. But this is no romanticized view of police work. Little in it seems designed to encourage anyone to sign up to serve. Still, it does give us a greater appreciation for those who do. Those who see things no person should have to. Those who deal with dangers few of us can comprehend.
The police, of course, deal with that stuff, in part, to save us from it. But End of Watch deals with it, in part, to entertain us. A movie like this can't kill us. But experiencing its extreme content can wound us. It can scar us.