By Kelly O‘Brien
End of Watch Director David Ayer has long been obsessed with the thin blue line separating cops from criminals and good cops from their corrupt brethren.
He explored this theme when writing the morally ambiguous Training Day, in which a very angry Denzel Washington won an Oscar for playing a crooked cop, and when writing and directing the problematic but compelling Harsh Times, in which an even angrier Christian Bale played a crooked veteran trying in vain to join the boys in blue.
Though sticking with this tried and tested theme for his latest offering, Ayer does manage to inject some new life into End of Watch – a film about two upstanding cops who put their lives on the line every day. The twist in this movie is that the cops, for once, are the good guys.
Thanks to an incredibly tight script, the film is fast of pace and packed with action. Yes, it’s another gritty, violent and profanity-filled police story, but there’s nothing even remotely repetitive about it. It is, in fact, a very traditional and clever take on the buddy cop genre that will have viewers on the edge of their seats throughout.
Los Angeles cops Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) are as close as two partners can get. Patrolling the streets of South Central together, they trade jibes back and forth in between high-octane shoot-outs and thrilling car chases. When a string of busts put the two on the trail of a notorious Mexican cartel, Taylor makes a conscious decision to follow the scent all the way down the rabbit hole. Zavala, more brother than partner, has no choice but to follow. Before long, both cops have targets on their backs as bosses south of the border order local evil-doers to take them out.
Though the plot is solid and the action undeniably juicy, it is the connection between the two partners that is the true heart of this movie. Their relationship, a sort of heterosexual love affair, is depicted with a sense of tenderness and care that will reach the hearts of all audience members.
Both Gyllenhaal and Peña put forward stellar performances here – neither one out-acting the other, but working together to create a believable and utterly heart wrenching tale of friendship and sacrifice. Anna Kendrick also puts in a welcome performance as Taylor’s love interest, but the acting seems to fall a little flat when it comes to the cartoonish villains that dominate the film’s lacklustre final act.
Another aspect which takes from the impact of the film is its insistence on using the “found footage” format made popular by modern horror films such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Taylor (Gyllenhaal) is apparently taking a film class on the side and carries a video camera with him while on the job, planning to record his work for a class project. A member of the Hispanic gang is also engaging in a bit of video work (are they in the same class?) and the movie regularly incorporates their footage into the narrative.
In general, this fly on the wall aspect serves as nothing more than a distraction, since there’s plenty in the film that clearly wasn’t shot by one of these narratively established cameras. Some of the close-up camcorder-shot scenes do work in context, but the viewer is jarred then when these scenes cut to glossier, more traditionally filmed ones. It’s only thanks to the strength of the cast that the audience isn’t totally pulled out of the film by these sudden stylistic shifts.
Despite some minor irks, and an irritatingly forgettable title, End of Watch remains an extremely visceral and hard-hitting film from seasoned Director David Ayer. Does exactly what it says on the tin.