L.A. crime movie veteran David Ayer reaches the peak of his writing/directing talents with End of Watch, a violent and moving cop thriller about brothers in blue trying to survive in an increasingly hostile world.
You’ve got to hand it to Ayer: the man knows his shtick and sticks with it. L.A. based crime thrillers are his forte, especially cop movies with Training Day (writer) and Street Kings (writer/director) bearing his name. Yet it’s End of Watch that will prove to be his crowning achievement: tough, gritty, full of feeling and atmosphere, thanks to Ayer’s authentic touch and the excellent performances of its cast.
A cracking car chase opens the film, as Los Angeles police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) take down a pair of gangbangers. It is one of many violent run-ins these pair of cocky cops find themselves in throughout the film, as captured by Brian who films his life as a policeman for a film studies class.
It’s not only screeching sirens and flying bullets that Brian captures. Just as vital to End of Watch are the moments in between where these two officers of the law crack jokes, share intimate antidotes (in a way only men can) and deal with the mental and physical stress that comes with their job.
A major reason why this interaction works so well is the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena, with the pair wholly convincing as men willing to take a bullet for one another, and funny (yet never distractingly so) as brothers in blue goofing around. Gyllehaal continues to impress with every role, yet the stand out here in Pena, a long time character actor who should receive some well-deserved awards recognition with this role.
The hand held footage format the Ayers utilises in End of Watch has its logic. Since the days of Rodney King, police officers – both in America and elsewhere – have embraced self-surveillance while on duty (countless “Wildest Police Videos” programs attest to that!)
It is when the action is turned up to 11 that its shaky cam format can be problematic, especially for novices. Those with steady shaky-cam legs will be able to withstand the carnage as Ayers whips his camera in all sorts of directions during the gunfights between our boys in blue and the Latino gangbangers (an easily detestable group who have an affinity for dropping the f-bomb countless times per boastful sentence) who are merciless in their quest to kill them.
It is eye of the storm genre filmmaking which Ayers executes to extremely effective, engrossing and moving results, making End of Watch a cop movie with guts and heart.