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Hello MoFo’s! And welcome to another edition of At the Theater with The Gunslinger 45. Not actually at the theater with this review (though I did see it in the theater when it first came out). I have wanted to do a review of this movie for a while now, but I have been putting it off. I did so because I wanted to wait until I felt comfortable doing a proper write-up for this flick. Why? Because this is a movie about cops in patrol… and as some of you know, I am a cop in patrol. So why would I want to review this? At one point when the flick was initially released, there was talk about how this was a more realistic look at the police then other TV shows and movies. Lethal Weapon, Law and Order, the God awful CSI, to Dirty Harry; all of these shows and movies have depicted law enforcement in one form or another. And most people know it is all Hollywood. But End of Watch was looked at as different; it was supposed to be more reality based. Or at least this was the talk among a bunch of grunts stationed in Fort Hood when we saw the flick over the weekend. And now I have the unique opportunity to determine that. Also I want to do it because I think being a cop is the best damn job in the world and want to give you a small slice of my 9-5 (or in my case 4 to midnight). And since I officially made it off probation and have been on the streets for 1 year, why the hell not talk about it? So is this another Hollywood fantasy? Or is this actually a slice of reality? The short answer? A little from column A, and a little from column B. You want the long answer? Then suit up kiddies for a ride along with Officer Gunslinger as we patrol the streets with End of Watch! With commentary and true (and sometimes humorous) references of actual calls for police I have answered.

So our movie takes place on the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles and opens with a monologue by Jake Gyllenhaal. He gives a speech about what it means to be police; both as an officer of the law and as a human being. The entire time this monologue is over footage of a car chase as captured from a squad car dash cam. It ends with a shoot out and introducing us to our main protagonists Officers Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and his partner Officer Zavala (Michael Pena). From there we cut to Taylor and Zavala in the police locker room. Taylor has a project for a filmmaking college course and he has opted to document his job as a police officer. Thus setting up the use of tiny body cameras, hand held cameras, and various other forms of shots to create the movie’s “found footage feel.” The movie follows the lives of Zavala and Taylor as cops. You see them at calls, you see them doing paper work, you see them off duty, and you see how they live and who they share their lives with. You also get to see them get into too deep with members of the Cartels who happen to run the local drug trade in South Central LA. What follows is life on the street from the view of the cops with boots on the streets.

So let’s address the elephant in the room, is this a 100% accurate depiction of life on the streets? HELL no. Then again, no movie or TV show ever is. Even a show like Cops with actual police and sheriff’s deputies is not a 100% accurate look at policing. Why is that? Because these movies and TV shows are ENTERTAINMENT. As such they have to try and get to the good stuff to keep the audience’s attention. Not every call the cops go to is a code 3 emergency (that is when we drive with lights and sirens). Not every call is a disturbance. Hell not every call for police is even in regards to a crime (more on that later). So the director David Ayer (the guy who wrote Training Day, SWAT, and directed Street Kings) has to balance reality and accuracy with pleasing the audience. And I say he did it pretty damn well. So let’s look at what is real and what is fake.

Let’s start off with the Hollywood BS. There is no way on God’s green Earth the supervisors of Taylor and Zavala would allow them to film their jobs as cops for a class project. As one officer said in the movie early on, that is considered evidence. Officers who wear body cameras are required to upload and tag footage from their cameras. And “deleting” the footage would be considered tampering with evidence. Also there are shots of the movie that are more than a little cinematic. These shots look too good to be taken by a handheld camera, or could not have been captured by the equipment they have. The aerial shots of the city, the love scene, and the like are all presented in the film for the purposes of good story telling and scene cohesion, but they were in no way captured by handheld cameras. Then again, the look of the movie is really cool. So I don’t mind it. And I am sure as hell not going to complain about a movie looking “too good.” The final shootout is pure Hollywood. And really, why the hell does no one pick up a damn AK? I know you have to use department standards weapons as a cop and can’t bring whatever you want to work, but when you are outnumbered and out gunned, better to face possible discipline alive then dead. The scene where Pena’s character takes off his badge and fights a guy in his own home is also fiction, and a great way to get complained on. And the entire Cartel and Federal Agents show up out of the blue subplot is pure fiction and have been done to death on TV shows like Law and Order. It is also HIGHLY unlikely that the local beat cops are going to stumble on the Cartels in such a way that leads to them putting a hit on cops. And this is coming from a guy who works in a city where the Cartels operate in! And of all the guns I have recovered, I have yet to find a gun as nice as the blinged up AK and 1911. The guns I get are going to be the Hi-Points, Cobra Arms, Jennings, and similar cheap Saturday night specials; with the high end guns I have recovered being Glock, Taurus, and Colt. And those are the ones that will be stolen. Remember, I work in the hood.

In addition to the more blatant Hollywood troupes, Ayer has to have a good balance of fiction with reality. As such he does include various kinds of calls cops get called to. We even get a few non emergency calls for police that are actually common place. But even those are played up a bit for Hollywood entertainment. Taylor and Zavala go to a health and welfare check call. Cops go to those often. This is when a family member is concerned about an elderly family member who usually lives alone and has not been heard from in a while. Usually the family member is alive. This time we get a dead body. Do those calls end with dead people? Of course. But when we find those houses, they certainly don’t contain remains of dead people the Cartel killed inside. Taylor and Zavala also go to a loud music call. Again, very common call; especially on the weekends. But this one JUST happens to have the same gangbangers from earlier in the movie that killed a guy in a drive by. Again, Ayer has to keep the keep the audience riveted, so he bends reality for the sake of good drama.

In addition to certain common calls being used in the film, certain calls I seem to go to everyday are noticeably absent in this movie. Like where the hell are the domestic disturbances? I watch a patrol cop movie for an hour and fifty minutes that in the context of the film lasts months and not ONE call where a wife, husband, baby daddy, boyfriend, girlfriend, or homosexual lover are fighting and someone has laid hands on one another? What fantasy world is this?!?!?!? Family violence calls are police bread and butter, so a patrol cop movie without them just seems weird. Also, where are the calls for police to deal with mental health patients? Sadly, the powers that be did away with the men in white with the straight jackets. So someone in their infinite wisdom (or was it stupidity) decided cops would take over the role of dealing with people with mental illness who might be a concern. So when we have a person who is diagnosed with a mental illness, said person is off their meds (or the meds aren’t working,) and is either suicidal or a danger to others, the cops get called. We place them in handcuffs and take them to a hospital with mental health capacities. They are not under arrest, but the cuffs are needed for officer safety and the safety of others. That is under our general orders. I once had to take a lady to the local hospital that was having a MAJOR depressive episode where SHE asked me “PLEASE TAKE MY LIFE! SHOOT ME PLEASE! YOU CAN DO IT!” After explaining that I was not going to shoot her, she was thankfully cooperative and we got her the help she needed and transported to the local hospital.

And those are the legitimate calls for police. Where are the “not police” calls? Where are the calls where a teenager is acting out of control and the mom expects me to scare the kid straight and correct years of bad parenting in 10 minutes? Where are calls for police that are civil matters? I am a police officer; I deal in the penal code. I have NO AUTHORITY in civil matters. If Person A loaned Person B money, and Person B won’t pay them back; I cannot kick in doors and force him to give you back your money. That is a civil matter. Take them to court. I cannot force your ex-girlfriend to give up the TV you shared now that you two broke up and she is moving out. That is considered shared community property. Take them to court. I cannot fine parents for “failing to raise their kids” because your daughter got into a fist fight with the neighbor’s kid in the middle of the street. That is mutual combat. I can’t do anything there. And I sure as hell should not be called to your apartment to get your lesbian lover to give back your cell phone after an argument because you happen to be bed ridden and can’t get it yourself. And if you do call for me, have the good decency to BE FULLY CLOTHED OR COVERED WITH A SHEET WHEN I ARRIVE! I do not need to see you in your 350 pound birthday suit lying on the bed!!! And yes that was an actual call I went to! And no, I will never be able to unsee it!

Now there are other tiny errors in the movie that are minor and not that big a deal, but I noticed anyway. Now I can’t comment on differences in equipment or radio usage. These are subject to departmental standards as set forth by General Orders. Some agencies issue 9mm handguns, others have 45’s or 40’s etc. Some departments use Glocks, Sig’s, Smith & Wesson, etc and agency vehicles range from Ford Crown Victorias, to Dodge or Chevy and so forth. Each department is different. That being said, if you’re going to say the department issues a Glock 19 handgun (the compact 9mm model) and you hold up a full sized Glock that CLEARLY shows it is the Model 22 in 40 S&W, try to get the props department to correct that error before you print it. Same goes for the “Spyderco” knife Gyllenhaal holds up that is actually a Smith & Wesson First Responder folding knife. I know this, because I have and carry the same blade (I bought it because I saw it in the movie). And yes, it is as awesome as it looks. And to top it off I don’t know what LAPD’s policy is, but everyone seems to have shotguns in this flick, and barely anyone on my department carries a shotgun save for a few older cops. Everyone else either just sticks to their handguns or has upgraded to the patrol AR-15. But I will not hold it against the movie. Again, there are going to be differences in policy regarding other aspects of cop work in this movie; like citations. Most agencies don’t have quotas for traffic tickets. Mine sure as hell doesn’t (I can write as many or as few tickets as I like). In the movie you have a Sergeant telling Taylor and Zavala to write more tickets. Certain agencies have actually even gotten in trouble for citation quotas. So I am pretty sure that it fiction, but I don’t know what LAPD’s policy on tickets are.

Finally Ayer’s does his best when it comes to the writing, but it does have its limitations. Ayer wrote this movie but he was never a cop. We deal with some of the strangest cases and call that unless you have worked in law enforcement, will never even think where capable of happening. As such, the movie will lack a certain authenticity without the calls you go to that you just can’t write. Ayer can’t write the rolling up on a young woman passed out face down on the side of the road with a PCP laced joint in one hand and a lighter in the other. And he certainly can’t write that once she woke up she started to try and light the joint up again for another hit. He can’t write rolling up on a bait car where a uniformed security officer is holding the pair of Jordan’s that he took out of the bait car. And he can’t write that said security officer tells me “I would like to report these as stolen.” Fun fact, the security officer was immediately arrested for burglary of a motor vehicle. Ayer can’t write how the people you deal with will share the most explicit details of their sex lives with you even when the that has NOTHING to do with the call you’re on. You will hear the most convoluted and stupid excuses from “these pants I’m wearing are not mine officer, that crack pipe is not mine” to “Officer I have not been drinking, and I did not get into an accident. I just parked my car in the center lane of this street to take a nap. I don’t know who hit that truck that is in front of me. You’re just racist!” He can’t write about running code 3 to a domestic disturbance and having to file charges on my complainant’s 32 year old sister because she threatened to throw hot cooking grease on him because he drank all of the Hawaiian Punch. And he sure as hell can’t write a scene where the caller on a robbery call turns into a suspect for sex assault of a minor because she makes a res gestae statement admitting to performing oral sex on a 14 year old boy during the investigation. And yes, ALL of these calls happened and yes they are all kinds of sad, funny, downright disgusting, or a sick combo of all three. You cannot make this up, because half of it sounds too stupid to be fiction!

Now I have picked apart this flick for its inaccuracies and Hollywood fluff. So what you are probably wondering. Is anything they say in this movie true? Oh hell yeah there is. In the movie Taylor and Zavala talk about how cops in certain agencies will get into more action and capers in a very short time in their time on the force then other cops at other agencies will see in their entire police careers. This is 100% accurate. The cops in this country are made up of a large walk of life. They range from the small town police chief (think Chief Brodie in Jaws or Andy Griffith), county sheriff and his deputies (ranging from large to small), to the big time in major cities and metropolitan areas (like me). A big city cop in the right part of town is going to get into more action and do WAY more than those in smaller agencies that might have a total of 6 officers on the entire department. I made my first arrest on day two on the street; I pulled my gun out and pointed it at an aggravated robbery suspect for the first time in my second week of training, and got my first felony arrest in my first month on the street. I have made arrests for everything from major felonies like aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and burglary of a habitation to misdemeanors like criminal trespass and public intoxication. I have made arrests on family violence assaults in all forms, drug arrests for crack, powder cocaine, PCP, and marijuana. I have arrested people for warrants ranging from unpaid citations to felony warrants. I have gone to shootings, stabbings, made arrests off sitting on drug houses, conducted felony traffic stops, DWI’s, worked with plain clothes and K9 elements, gone to calls with SWAT on barricaded suspects, worked with the bait car unit, drove code 3 to emergency calls, drove in one car chase, and seen plenty of blood and dead bodies from both natural and un-natural causes. I have recovered stolen guns, stolen cars, and even found a few missing people. And that has just been in my first year on the force. Hell the last call I went to this past week, we arrested a guy was for him beating up his disabled mother! When Pena’s character says that you get into the good stuff and that is just the first half of your shift, he is not lying! That is NOT Hollywood, that is real life. Now it does not happen back to back to back (usually) but it will happen often enough if you are patient.

In addition, this is movie does do a damn good job of portraying the life of a patrol officer. Now sure they Hollywood the calls up, but they still got the presentation right. Taylor and Zavala are a couple of young and ambitious officers on what appears to be third watch (the evening shift). That is where the most fun is and where the majority of young officers start (that or deep nights) because they lack the seniority needed to go to the day watch. They are not super specialized detectives or operators. They are the jack of all trades beat cop. You see the pissed off and bitter cop who has become jaded and angry after getting in trouble and jacked over by the department higher ups. You see a glimpse at a rookie and her field training officer and how nerve wrecking that can be. You even get to see one wash out. You see the smallest of accurate details in the everyday life of patrol. You go to the locker room with vests and wet towels hung up outside the lockers. You go to the detail room where the Sergeants and higher ups break down what is going on and points of interest. Next is the scrabble to your car where you find it by using the car alarm and popping the trunk, and then it is off to the street where you survive on a steady diet on caffeine; be it coffee or energy drinks. I myself prefer Red Bull and the caffeinated Mio Energy water flavoring. And while not really shown a lot they are not lying when they say they do a lot of paper work. Oh dear GOD is there paperwork! As for the people you deal with, these are not pieces of Hollywood fiction. You got your loud pains in the butts sure, but you will also deal with EVIL on this job. And I don’t mean the BS Politician A is from the opposite party I support that makes him evil crap. I mean true evil. The kind of evil that abuses his own wife and kids, the evil that shoots his fellow man over drug turf, the evil that sticks his finger up his own toddler’s rectum while his buddy is in the corner watching. Yeah… I have been to those calls and filed those reports. You will see the very worst of humanity on this job. The kind of humanity that thinks life is cheap and bought and paid for like a carton of milk. And all that negativity, violence, and depravity you then have to bring home with you. Truth be told… the things you see never really goes away. They will stay with you until your dying day. But you have to deal with it. You NEED an outlet. And the movie shows that truth in a short, but poignant way. Gyllenhaal goes to one particular call with the kids whose drug addict parents have ducted taped the kids in the closet. You see he is more than a little disturbed by this, and he clears his head by working out. That is actually one of the best methods of dealing with the stress. Lord knows I make it a rule to go for a long run if I catch a call for police regarding a sexual assault. Especially if the call involves kids. The stress and emotional wear is a far bigger killer then all the gang bangers, thugs, and assorted street walking scum. The movie certainly is not over inflating that.

There is also one aspect of policing that Ayer captured very well. A very grim reality that always hangs over our heads as police. Something we know is coming, but something we never hope to experience.

And that is the police funeral.

It is difficult to describe. The profound sadness. The loss of a brother you may never have met. You never exchanged words but the world seems a little more empty with his passing. It is a very somber experience. Knowing one of your own is not coming back. You watch as people say kind words to eulogize the dead and look on helplessly as their families cry at the side of the casket. For those who gave their lives there is no tomorrow. No next time. Their watch has ended. The movie does show a very accurate portrayal of the cop funeral. The long precession line traveling slowly towards the church and ultimately the grave site. Everyone dressed in their Class A uniforms. Silent and grieving with black tape over their badges. The only thing I can say negative about this scene was the setting was too small. For us, cops from far and wide come to the funerals. Other cities and other states. At the funeral I went to I saw police from Maine to Alaska show up. NYPD, LAPD, state troopers, Boston, Houston, and more. Even smaller agencies from Wyoming and Fargo North Dakota showed up. Because it is true what Gyllenhaal said in the opening monologue. We may die, but we have thousands of brothers and sisters ready to back us up. That brotherhood is real. Realer then anything Hollywood could ever portray. And we all come together in our hour of need. It was one of if not the worst experiences I ever had. And I hope to never experience it ever again.

But at the end of the day, I still got a job to do. I get up, get ready and have to go out and handle business. Because few else will. And at the end of the day after all is said and done; after all the crap, all the anger and negative emotions, being lied to, the drama, and the ever present danger of getting killed; I find myself saying the same thing to myself. I ****ing love this job.

So yeah, the movie is fiction, but there is a lot of truth to the movie. Probably more fiction then truth, but hey, it is a movie. I want to be entertained. If you want a peek at real policing, try a documentary. Maybe watch some of The First 48 if you want a look at homicide detectives. Or if you want the real deal do a ride along with your local police agency. I suggest riding on 3rd watch or deep nights. Days are kinda boring. But if you want a really good action movie where they look a patrol cops for once with a lot of creative camera work and shots, this is the flick to watch. Gunslinger approved for a good time.