We are inside a car, video-game style, screeching through the scruffier streets of Los Angeles, chasing bad guys. It is tomb silent except for a calm voice. "I am the police. And I am here to arrest you. You have broken the law. I did not write the law. I may even disagree with the law. But I will enforce it." Through the windshield, oncoming semitrailers are narrowly avoided, but the voice stays even. "I bleed, I think, I love. And, yes, I can be killed. And although I am but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me. They will lay down their lives for me, and I them." And so it goes, until our car unceremoniously rams into the miscreants' vehicle.
This monologue, which opens the new police movie End of Watch, may strike regular moviegoers as sappy. To those in law enforcement, it's more likely to sound like gospel truth, the most wipe-your-eyes-authentic job description ever committed to film. That was the unanimous opinion of 10 Los Angeles Police Department employees and spouses whom Time interviewed after a screening at an L.A. multiplex a week ahead of the film's opening on Sept. 21. Since the movie assumes the patrolman's point of view, we observed audience reaction during a LAPD-only screening and then asked a group of attendees to weigh in on its veracity.
During that opening sequence the crowd is rapt; the film has barely begun, and already those words, spoken by Jake Gyllenhaal's character, get a smattering of applause. Then, right after the crash, something goes awry. The real-life cops start fidgeting and looking down at their complimentary beverages.
Onscreen, the bad guys get out with guns blazing, and Gyllenhaal and his partner, played by Michael Pea, move to the front of their car returning fire. Fail. No police officer worth his 9-mm Glock would leave the protection of a sturdy cruiser while being shot at. "They're trained to seek cover and concealment," says Ed Palmer after the screening. Palmer has worked for the LAPD for 27 years, some of them at the Police Academy.
The cops' quick change of mood illustrates the challenge facing director David Ayer in his quest for authenticity. He has to be true to police procedure and the often quotidian routines of beat cops while maximizing the cinematic drama. The cops need to be in front of the car to be seen on the dashboard cam, even if real cops wouldn't. Cinematic value 3, accuracy 0.
But if Ayer can't get the LAPD in his sights, nobody can. End of Watch is his seventh movie about his local five-o. He wrote screenplays for The Fast and the Furious, Training Day (both 2001), Dark Blue (2002), S.W.A.T. (2003) and Harsh Times (2005), which was also his directorial debut. The second movie he directed, Street Kings (2008), was written by veteran Los Angeles crime novelist James Ellroy. By now, Ayer, who grew up in South Central L.A. before joining the Navy, is an inside trader of cop culture. He has friends in the department he can call on for fact-checking or classified tidbits. "Cops are like children and dogs--they know who likes them," he says. "Behind that badge, it's really a secret society. Outsiders never understand what it's like."