For most of his career writer/director David Ayer has
had something of a jaundiced view of the sun-kissed City of Angels. In
films like Training Day, Dark Blue,
Harsh Times and Street Kings, the
cops are corruptible loose cannons and the general population is rife with
gangbangers, drug dealers and turf wars between perps and police. While End Of Watch patrols the same tough ghetto streets, its cops are
most definitely on the side of the angels.
Patrolmen Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former Marine, and
his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña),
a career cop, are two of LA’s finest; decorated true blue heroes risking their
lives running into burning buildings to rescue kids, shooting it out with
heavily armed gangsters and always looking out for their fellow officers. As Taylor tells us at the beginning;
they might not always agree with the law but they will damn well enforce it. Best friends on and off the job, Taylor
craves the love and companionship Zavala has with wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) who’s expecting their
first child but may just have found it in new girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick). When they bust a drug runner with a car
full of cash and a gold AK-47, Taylor and Zavala find themselves targeted by a
Mexican drug cartel that sees the two cops as a key threat to their
organisation. With their personal
lives at a crossroads being a cop here is an extreme way of living.
End Of Watch’s biggest
strength is also its biggest weakness.
Ayer chooses to shoot parts of the film in a found footage, COPS-style as part of a documentary
Taylor is making for his part-time college course. What slightly jars is that much of the film is actually shot
in a more traditional fashion, leaving you at times wondering who is meant to
be filming this and why at some points does Taylor acknowledge the cameras and
at others it’s clear there are no cameras present.
When it works however, it
works. We’re given access to
Taylor and Zavala’s friendship and world.
We’re in their black and white with them at all times, sharing their
camaraderie, their banter, their bromance. Rarely in cop films do you get to be so immersed in what
they do. In being so intrinsically
involved in their working lives we get to fully appreciate these two officers
putting themselves firmly in the line of fire. Every set piece takes on a thrilling kinetic energy, every
house raid becomes a tense affair in which anything can lurk behind a closed
door or drawn curtain and every doorbell rung can result in a gruesome
discovery. The finale’s big
shoot-out makes possibly the best use of first person perspective you’re likely
to see, the camera tracking the barrel of Taylor’s gun, Doom-style, as he clears each corridor he ventures down.
The plot is wafer thin, only
towards the end does any inkling of a story really begin to fall into place and
it’s mainly to offer up a satisfying climax. But when you’re in the company of Taylor and Zavala,
watching them bounce of each other while never forgetting their responsibility
to keeping each other safe, the film thrives. This is in no small part down to Gyllenhaal and Peña’s
onscreen chemistry. Ayer made the
pair go through five months of intense police training before shooting and they
more than convince as hardened street cops. Gyllenhaal brings a more mature edge to his cocky-boy antics
of Love And Other Drugs. Yes, he’s mischievous at times but when
the chips are down he’s a convincing tough guy, the shaved head helps but more
so the confidence with which he imbues the role. Peña meanwhile brings a more earthy charm, a grounded honesty
to Taylor’s alpha male. He’s not
so much a Murtaugh to Taylor’s Riggs as he’s the family guy who’s happy with
his lot in life and not afraid to play his partner at his own game of
mocking. The supporting cast are
also on solid form with Anna Kendrick doing her cutesy thing with enough
wide-eyed wonder to make you fall for her, let alone Taylor. Martinez has fun as Zavala’s
foul-mouthed wife and frankly if you ever wanted to see Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera go all hardcore and
swear a lot then look no further.
Gritty and energetic, End Of
Watch rattles along thanks to great chemistry and genuine moments of tension. You care for Taylor and Zavala, worry
for them when the bullets fly and laugh with them when they’re enjoying each other’s
company. A fresh take on the cop
genre and a smart way to reinvent the found footage concept, End Of Watch will
book you, kick you and laugh you all the way to the slammer.