Posts Tagged ‘End of Watch’

Metro in Focus: Hollywood is the winner of the ‘war on drugs’

By Richard Crouse – In Focus

The “war on drugs” is one of the longest battles in American history. In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one,” vowing combat against drug producers and dealers.

Forty years and many billions of dollars later the Global Commission on Drug Policy stated, “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

Last year, writing in the New York Times, Mexican journalist José Luis Pardo Veiras echoed those sentiments. “Drugs continue to stream north to the United States, the great user, and firearms enter Mexico in return, where they kill thousands.”

The fight has been a failure for everyone except Hollywood, which has consistently mined the war on drugs for stories and colourful characters. This weekend Tom Cruise stars in the latest tale from the war on drugs, American Made, the real-life story of Barry Seal, adrenaline junkie and TWA pilot.

The story begins with Seal being hired by the CIA to take reconnaissance photos of Soviet-backed insurgents in South America. His life quickly spirals out of control as he becomes a courier between the CIA and Panamanian CIA informant General Manuel Noriega while also working as a cocaine smuggler for the Medellin Cartel.

Drug cartel stories are tailor made for the movies. Populated by bigger-than-life characters like the wealthiest criminal in history, the so-called “The King of Cocaine,” Pablo Escobar, the stories have it all: glamour, drama, moral ambiguity and the primal clash of good and evil. Here are three films with three very different approaches to the war on drugs.

One critic described Sicario as a “French Connection for the drug-fuelled Mexico-US border war.” Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, it’s a drama about an idealistic FBI agent working with an elite task force to stem the flow of drugs between Mexico and the United States. It’s gritty and certainly not a feel-good movie about winning the war on drugs. Instead, it’s a powerful look at a seemingly unwinnable battle and the toll it takes on its soldiers.

Savages is an over-the-top Oliver Stone movie that sees Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch as drug dealers and two thirds of a love triangle with a California cutie played by Blake Lively. Their product, a potent strain of legal medical-grade marijuana, earns the attention of a Mexican Baja drug Cartel boss (Salma Hayek) who’ll do anything to create a “joint” venture, including kidnapping and murder.

Savages, at its black-hearted best, is a preposterous popcorn movie that sees Stone leave behind the restraint of movies like W and World Trade Center and kick into full bore, unhinged Natural Born Killers mode. It’s a wild, down ’n dirty look into the business of drugs and revenge.

Smaller in scale is End of Watch. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play patrol cops in Los Angeles’s tough South Central neighbourhood. A routine traffic stop turns into something bigger when they confiscate money and guns from a cartel member. “Be careful,” they’re warned by a senior officer, “You just tugged on the tail of a snake that’s going to turn around and bite you.”

These movies and others, like Code of the West and The House I Live In, prove the winners of the war on drugs are filmmakers.


endofwatch2The lives of LAPD cops have been he stuff of TV shows and movies for years. So how do you lend some interest to the story of two South Central patrol cops? By not telling a story, that’s how.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play Officers Taylor and Zavala, patrol cops in Los Angeles’s tough South Central neighborhood. A routine traffic stop turns into something bigger when they confiscate money and guns from a cartel member. “Be careful,” they’re warned by a senior officer, “You just tugged on the tail of a snake that’s going to turn around and bite you.”

“End of Watch” is all build up. The movie spends an hour-and-a-half introducing its characters, giving us a sense of the dynamic between Taylor and Zavala as they bust chops and solve crimes. We learn about the mundane work-a-day nature of policing (“Policing is all about comfortable footwear,” we’re told.) We also come to discover that these guys are trouble magnets. Not since Angela Landsbury in “Murder She Wrote” have fictional characters have such a knack for being where the crime is.

It takes a while to warm to the “story’s” episodic nature. Director David Ayers (who specializes in LA cop drams, having written “Training day,” “S.W.A.T.” and directed “Street Kings”) eschews traditional storytelling for character study. Through a loosely related series of scenes we learn about the sense of love, honor and loyalty shared by these cops.  Once you allow yourself to be drawn into the performances and the chemistry of the leads, you’ll be sucked in straight through to the exciting conclusion.

The beginning is tough, however. The first half-hour is stagey. The having-the-character-film-part-of-the-movie thing has been done to death, and adds a level of artificiality to the movie that doesn’t need to be there. The Barf-O-Matic hand held camera work adds a sense of immediacy to the action scenes, but it’s overused and it is sometimes hard to tell what’s happening. Take out the wobbly cam and no one would miss it.

Also, it’s hard to discuss the end without being spoilerific, but let’s say the movie goes from jovial to gritty and then back to jovial again. I didn’t love it, but Hollywood seems to be allergic to tragic endings and Ayers found a way to circumvent that and stay true-ish to his gritty vision for the story.
Despite an unnecessary coda, “End of Watch” works because of the naturalistic performances and the climax.