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Move Over, Roger Ebert: Ex-LAPD Chief Bill Bratton on 'End of Watch' and Other Cop Dramas

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Opening Friday is writer-director David Ayer’s latest film End of Watch, a drama about the on- and off-duty lives of LAPD officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña). Stationed in South LA’s Newton Division, the officers deal with crime, drugs and gangs on a daily basis.

It’s a powerful action film that’s balanced by moments of humor and excellent, nuanced performances by Gyllenhaal and Peña. It also was one of the more realistic cop films we’ve seen in awhile. But we wanted a second opinion, so we had a chance to ask an expert about the movie.

“[The film] is disturbingly real of what conditions are out there for police officers today,” says Bill Bratton, former police chief of the LAPD from 2002-09, during a recent call from New York. Bratton, who’s now with a risk-management consulting company, also served as the top cop for Boston and New York, so we'll trust his judgement about cop dramas.Bratton gives End of Watch high marks for both realism and entertainment value. While he does acknowledge that the action is “over-dramatized,” the issues that the officers encounter like human trafficking, drug running and violence are all too real. Fortunately for Angelenos, the violence of Mexican drug cartels have not yet reached the heights of the brutality affecting those south of the U.S. border.

In one pivotal scene in the film, officers Taylor and Zavala are being hunted down by gang members with police backup slow to respond. Bratton says that the LAPD’s real response would have been faster and forceful: “There’d be helicopters and more police than you could imagine.”

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A connoisseur of cop dramas, Bratton mentions some of his favorite films and shows about policing in LA, including the Robert A. Cinader- and Jack Webb-created series One Adam 12; the 1972 film The New Centurions with George C. Scott and Stacy Keach; and Colors with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall (1988). “There’s [been] a steady progression of violence in movies that reflect real life,” says Bratton. He also calls out 2002’s Crash as another a “good reflection” of its era, depicting racial and ethnic issues plaguing LA.

End of Watch is a film that mirrors present-day LA. Local faces also pop up in the film, including LA councilmember Eric Garcetti, playing the mayor of LA and CBS-2 news reporter Serene Branson. Ayer, who grew up in South LA, mines familiar territory (he wrote Training Day that starred Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke) and uses the city as another character in the story, reflecting its diversity—both good and bad.

We’re guessing that it makes Bratton’s short list, too.