End of Watch
Directed by: David Ayer.
Written by: David Ayer.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Brian Taylor), Michael Peña (Mike Zavala), Natalie Martinez (Gabby), Anna Kendrick (Janet), David Harbour (Van Hauser), Frank Grillo (Sarge), America Ferrera (Orozco), Cle Shaheed Sloan (Mr. Tre), Jaime FitzSimons (Captain Reese), Cody Horn (Davis), Shondrella Avery (Bonita).
The two LAPD Officers in End of Watch are good cops. Yes, they may be full of cocky bravado, but they take their jobs seriously – and do them well. They are not crooked; they don’t abuse their prisoners or plant evidence. They may bend a rule or two, but they do not break them. Most movies about cops are about bad cops – even the previous work of writer/director David Ayer, who wrote Training Day and Dark Blue, directed Street Kings and wrote and directed Harsh Times. He is obviously interested in the inner workings of the police – especially in LA – and perhaps the reason he made End of Watch is as simple as the fact he wanted to show the police in a positive light for once. And he succeeds. End of Watch is a wonderfully entertaining cop movie.
The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as officers Taylor and Zavala. They have been partners for years now, went to the academy together, and have become pretty much like brothers. Taylor knows and loves Zavala’s wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez), and when he finally settles down with Janet (Anna Kendrick), Zavala is right there with him. Their relationship consists of friendly banter, much of it mocking each other, but they do love each other like brothers – we never doubt that either of them would be willing to die for each other.
The movie is largely shot through cameras that Taylor brings along with him for a film class he is taking. While there are some boring days, there aren’t that many. There always seem to be a gunfight or a fire or a confrontation with a gang – mainly a Latino gang, who start to hate Taylor and Zavala, because although they are just beat cops, they always seem to be harassing them. We know how the movie will end – a violent confrontation between these two cops and the gang – who like Taylor, always seems to have a camera on recording their activity – which is stupid, of course, because they are really documenting crimes. But this gang isn’t exactly high on intelligence.
End of Watch works because of the performances by Gyllenhaal and Pena. We like these two characters and get to know them, and because of that, when they get into gun fights, or running into a burning building or get into a car chase (which, let’s be honest here, happens way more often to these two than to any cops in history), we want them to make it out alive. Ayer is a smart enough writer and director to know that we’ll stick with the movie if we actually like the characters. They are not cookie cutters, but real guys. Gyllenhaal still has traces of that boyish charm he does so well, but there is something darker in Taylor as well. Pena is a little goofier, a little more relaxed. Both are excellent in the film, and together they make a great team.
How you feel about End of Watch may well come down to how you feel about the camera work. End of Watch is not quite a “found footage” movie, as for some reasons Ayer does give us some establishing shots numerous times throughout the movie, but it comes pretty close. It used to be that found footage was only used in low budget horror movies – but this year has seen several examples of other genres getting into the action – the sci-fi action film Chronicle and the teen comedy Project X for example. Ayer uses the shaky camera work inherent in the genre better than most – not quite as nausea inducing as others I have seen, and still with a definite sense of style. In short, I doubt most amateurs could actually make a film that looks as good as End of Watch.
End of Watch is not a great movie, and really isn’t a very original movie either. You know what you’re getting into from the previews – and if you don’t, the profanity laced tirade that begins the film will surely let you know. But it is a well-made, well-written and especially well-acted example of its genre. And an effective one.