Thursday, October 4, 2012

End of Watch (2012): From Dragnet to the New Centurions
By Anthony Servante

The depiction of the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) has long been romanticized by Hollywood in an effort to capture the realism of the streets and provide a positive view of the officers that risk their lives for the people of the City of Angels in the performance of their duties. In the early days of television and on radio, the LAPD was depicted as business-like investigators. Later, when TV went color, the officers’ personal lives were melded with their work routines. When an ex-LAPD officer wrote a semi-autobiographic book about the psychological effects a rookie goes through to become a veteran, he stretched the daily grind of police work to include the grotesque and gory aspects of violence commonly seen in the early 60s in the “minority” sections of L.A. This started a trend in TV for more personal and violent police shows.

Jack Webb with LAPD Sgt. Dan Cook and Dragnet producer Bob Cinader.
The propaganda machine is set in motion. 

“Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave millions of audience members a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real-life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers” (Wiki). Sgt. Joe Friday and partner Ben Romero were a white and Mexican-American police duo, a team-up that for 1949 was far ahead of its time. And the focus wasn't on the ethnicity of the characters but on the crime stories they investigated. Jack Webb continued to try to capture the realism of the streets as seen through the eyes of actual police in other Dragnet shows and movies, but it wasn't until he created and produced Adam-12 that he explored the private life of the officers, not just the business side.

Cops become buddies in the 60s. 

“Adam-12 is a television police drama that followed two police officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, Pete Malloy and Jim Reed, as they patrolled the streets of Los Angeles in their patrol unit, 1-Adam-12. Created by R. A. Cinader and Jack Webb, who is known for creating Dragnet, the series captured a typical day in the life of a police officer as realistically as possible. The show ran from September 21, 1968 through May 20, 1975, and helped introduce police procedures and jargon to the general public in the United States of America” (Wiki). In Adam-12 the personal lives of the two officers is explored and we get a new perspective of the LAPD. The realistic crime drama is still there, but with the introduction of this new side of the officers, the suspense element intensifies as the viewer is now personally invested in the characters, something the radio listener did not share with the Friday and Romero characters because we knew they were all business (although Friday lived with his mother as we know from the Mad Magazine parody when Friday’s partner interjects “How’s your mother?” every other caption). We now saw the police officers with personal problems reacting with emotions not commonly experienced with the depictions of Friday and his partners. The streets were still gritty, but the emotional level of the men in blue had become grittier.

Stacy Keach and George C. Scott: a new breed of violent cop. 

At the height of Dragnet and Adam-12’s popularity, Joseph Wambaugh wrote The New Centurions in 1971. Wambaugh, ex-LAPD, decided to up the edginess and grittiness of the police procedures in his book and added a new element: the cops were now open to becoming victims of the streets they patrolled. They were also subject to the emotional consequences of their stressful jobs. They had divorces, alcoholism, drug dependence, and they sometimes released their stress with a bit of police brutality—something not covered by the Jack Webb productions. With Webb, it was an us and them story-telling; with Wambaugh, we and they suffered the same emotional and tragic consequences of the streets. The edgy author influenced many “cop” shows that focused on gory shootings and deaths, personal breakdowns of officers, and corruption (think Hill Street Blues and The Shield). The age of the romantically depicted policeman was teetering on the edge of stereotype. But then this movie arrived that returned the romance to the LAPD, albeit with a horrific edge.

More action than three gang neighborhoods can muster. 

End of Watch carries on the tradition set in motion by Jack Webb. “[It] is a 2012 American action-drama film written and directed by David Ayer. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as Los Angeles Police Department officers who work in South Central Los Angeles. The title of the movie takes its name from a euphemism used within the law enforcement community for an officer (or officers) killed in the line of duty” (Wiki). Two police officers patrol the dangerous streets of Los Angeles; we get to know their personal lives and their friendship on and off the job. It is still a procedural drama, but the backstory is kicked up a notch. The villains are exaggerated gangstas (cartel soldiers), in the midst of stealing territory from the black gangs of South Central. Our officers unintentionally step on the bad guys’ toes and there is a vendetta placed on their heads.

Officer surrounded by gang members—no civilians in this flick. 

Between their routine calls to grotesque crime scenes, we get to meet their girlfriends, hear about their trips to Santa Barbara for the weekends and the Quinceañeras “common to every Mexican family”. EOW’s officers bask in the racial differences between the two comrades; it takes elements of Dragnet, Adam-12, The New Centurions and adds an exaggerated gruesomeness usually found in horror movies. We get the bromance between beheadings, a knife in the eye, an officer’s head crushed in by a brutal beating, and there’s still time for a party or two, some speeches about partners on patrol being brothers of the badge. This is extreme police procedure with business and blood in equal amounts. We hear the proper police chatter and cop-speak/jargon, but we also get some of the goriest scenes a cop can come across in his short career on the force. Forget the notion that an average officer never fires his gun throughout his career; in EOW, we get killings followed by awards for heroism. Even the fire and the rescue of kids are claustrophobic and played for emotional impact. At its heart End of Watch is still basic LAPD propaganda, but damn fine entertaining propaganda. Grade of B.

Here is the red band trailer for End of Watch; you need to verify your age to see it.

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