END OF WATCH
Plaudits are deserved by anyone who manages to do something new with the guns and drugs cop movie. Director David Ayer’s documentary-style camera work, combined with excellent central performances, ensure that End of Watch makes a fresh contribution to a tired genre.
It begins with Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) speaking over hand-held footage of a car chase. He is a beat cop in the LAPD, but he’s taking film classes in the evening. For one of his projects he decides to make a documentary of his travails on the cruel streets of LA. It is an implausible premise rescued by Gyllenhaal’s excellent performance.
Initially it seems the entire film is going to be shot on handheld camera, but director David Ayers dispenses with it for key action sequences and wide establishing shots. Thankfully, the nerve-shredding tension generated makes up for the stylistic concession.
End of Watch’s beating heart is the relationship between Taylor and his Hispanic beat partner Mike Zavala (Miachael Peña). We learn about their personal lives through their exchanges in the patrol car. The background presence of their wives and children keeps the testosterone in check, their families revealing the ultimate selfishness of their macho exploits. As Taylor’s fiancé, Anna Kendrick turns in the nimble performance we’ve come to expect from her.
Peña is just as good as Gyllenhaal and the two have excellent chemistry. Their verbal jousting is just as entertaining, if not more so, than their violent encounters with criminals.
Their bond intensifies as they enter deeper into the murky world of gangland LA. After an anonymous call they chance upon a major human trafficking racket. It soon becomes apparent that they’ve wandered into the cross-hairs of a mad, bad drug cartel who have no qualms about picking off cops.
Unfortunately, the Grand Theft Auto-style Mexican villains jar with the ultra-real documentary feel. The ending is also overblown, with the whole thing going out in a blaze of bullets that is out of sync with the rest of the film’s up-close intimacy.
Overall, though, End of Watch is a tense, invigorating ride. Two transfixing central performances and several gleaming supporting ones ensure there’s humour and poignancy as well as muscle.