YouTube-style hits the cop movie with ’End of Watch’
What are the ingredients for a good cop movie: A story steeped in reality that captivates us; characters we care for, who genuinely want to make the community they serve a better place, not necessarily in a heroic way, but in their very human, flawed, and, at times, vulnerable ways? Okay, and it does not hurt having Jake Gyllenhaal as one good cop. A good cop film will have you coming out of the theater feeling inspired and even respectful of the officers in blue who put their lives on the line everyday.
Audiences felt that way when "End of Watch" came in as the #1 movie last weekend at the box office. Movie insiders, though, weren’t surprised: the pre-opening buzz about the film was high for its hand-held visual style and its gritty take of life on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, far from the Mulholland Drive views usually seen in movies about the city.
It’s the latest cop movie from David Ayer, who gave us "Harsh Times" and "Street Kings," but he’s probably best known for writing "Training Day" in which Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his bad cop role opposite Ethan Hawke’s rookie cop.
In "End of Watch," Ayer takes us into the world of two LAPD cops employing the "found footage" treatment which surprisingly provides the audience with an intimate look at the candid and rough action in this urban wasteland. Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) are unsung heroes who know that they are not the hero cops we see on most Hollywood screens. The cast is rounded up by the very affable Anna Kendrick ("Up In the Air") and Natalie Martinez ("Death Race") as their respective love interests and America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") and Cody Horn ("Magic Mike") who play the men’s colleagues who love to hate them.
It is surprising how fresh and controlled this film feels under the helm of David Ayer, and highlights the five months of police ride-alongs that the lead actors have done. Variety’s Peter Debruge applauds, "Ultimately, the mock-doc device works because Gyllenhaal and Peña so completely reinvent themselves in-character. Instead of wearing the roles like costumes or uniforms, they let the job seep into their skin, a feat without which ’End of Watch’s’ pseudo-reality never would have worked." Henry Barnes of The Guardian encourages the audience to "revel in the pace and passion of a filmmaker policing a field that is now unquestionably his."
And Manohla Dargis in the New York Times called the film: "An ode to beat cops and the expansive literature on them, David Ayer’s ’End of Watch’ is a muscular, maddening exploitation movie embellished with art-house style and anchored by solid performances."
EDGE meets Michael Peña and Natalie Martinez, one half of the congenial foursome in this gritty action film.
A completely different cop movie
EDGE: You had to audition for this role. What makes you really want to be in this movie?
Michael Peña: When I first read it, it was completely different from any cop movie that I have read. Sometimes you read big studio movies and sometimes you read little indies that are trying to make something different. I really could not put my finger on it, which I thought was probably better. It had crazy huge dialogue. I was a huge fan of the seventies’ movies like ’The French Connection’ where they have a lot of dialogue, but it is really epic cool dialogue. It reminded me kind of like a David Mamet play, like ’Glengarry Glen Ross,’ those movies that are highly rich in great dialogue. This one was one of them.
The relationships in this script are pretty amazing: my relationship with my wife, my relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, were really interesting. It was written like a goody-two-shoe thing. It was written like with two brothers. When we went on ride-alongs, there is definitely this brotherhood when you feel like all these cops had, they all have each other’s back. Even if they do not particularly get along, they are not best friends, but they will die for each other. They have to have that because of the gangsters, robbers, criminals, they have that kind of mentality as well, that they will die for each other, so you need something just as strong. By the end of it, I was like, I will do anything to try and get a shot in this movie.
EDGE: There is definitely great chemistry among the cast members in this movie.
Natalie Martinez: We really cared about this film and we all really did spend time together and built those relationships. Michael and Jake spent all this time preparing and getting to know each other. Same thing with Michael and myself. We actually took time from our personal lives and spent time together and built relationships so that when we got on set, it was just that much easier, just pretending that we were husband and wife. We fed ideas back and forth, so that when we got on there we were very prepared. The preparation that took place for this movie was like no other. I feel so comfortable around him it was ridiculous. We did not even talk, we just saw each other and we were back at it again. But that was what our relationship was based on. We were together since we were in high school. When you are married for that long and young, basically your best friend is your partner.
Grueling rehearsal process
EDGE: There was a four month rehearsal process including ride-alongs with Jake Gyllenhaal. How was the creative process like for you and Jake?
Michael Peña: For four months, we were hanging out two times a week and that is a lot! And even talked on the phone asking each other, ’What you are doing?’ By the time we got on set, we were totally comfortable.
Natalie Martinez: We would have stories from the night before, something we have talked before. Remember this? It just made it more comfortable.
Michael Peña: With Jake, we had all these dialogue and action. It was pretty similar. With Natalie, we would go for dinner or go out somewhere. That was super fun, like mini-dates. With Jake, we had to spar against each other. That was how we hung, then we rehearsed, then we went to David Ayer. We were always talking about things. There were shootings, ride-alongs, sparring, really awesome. Jake was fantastic in this movie it was like nothing I have every seen him in. It was cool to see him transforming like from a person. By mid way though, he really wanted to go sparring, me too, I could not wait for it. Then you get competitive with the people that you are sparring with. Then I would get mad, when someone tagged me twice and I only tagged him once, there was still that lingering thing. We got into that mentality, it was so funny. I really thought I was a cop.
There are not too many times when you catch lightning in a bottle like that, but I really felt like I was married to her (Natalie) and I was a real cop with a lot to lose. Emotional scenes for me are pretty hard. I had to bare it down and think of some sad stuff, sometimes it just does not happen but in this movie, because I was so invested into the world, it was a lot easier because there was so much preparation.
EDGE: The camera that Jake was holding. Was that actually capturing some of the action? Were those shots actually used in the movie?
Michael Peña: Absolutely. The final scene that you see, was him actually doing this, turning the camera back and forth. I did not think he was going to get credit for Director of Photography, but he was doing a lot of that and getting it in one shot.
Natalie Martinez:There were a lot of scenes that did not make it to the movie but every time we cut, Jake would be back there with a camera asking questions, and you had to still stay in character. Jake was like, ’your husband just did this,’ I would talk back, complete improv. Those scenes did not make it but we never knew what was going to make it and what was not. We always had to be on point with whatever we were doing.
EDGE: There is something to be said about the style and the use of multiple cameras capturing the same action. There are always a few cameras rolling at the same time. In a single camera shoot, you may relax a little when the camera is not on you.
Michael Peña: There was none of that. I remember her coming on set and she was in character, at breakfast...
Natalie Martinez: The moment I signed in, I was his wife. When I signed out, I was his friend again.
EDGE: You do not know when the camera is on you.
Michael Peña: You do, when they say action. Usually, there is one camera and that is that, but this one, there was not much pressure. It was David Ayer. He is a great director. He just let it breathe. He would say, "Do your thing. It’s cool." Then he would tweak little things, but when you are comfortable, you are having fun and just want to tell the story, then you would be thinking, ’I hope they have a camera on me on that one.’ That was a great feeling.
End of Watch is in theaters.
Watch the trailer to End of Watch: