It’s entirely possible that writer/director David Ayer has crafted the best cop movie of all time with End of Watch. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play two young LAPD officers, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala respectively, who work in the notorious South Central area. The way the movie has it, this is one of the most dangerous precincts in the country, but Mike and Brian attack their duties with relish.
As the film begins, we immediately dislike Brian. He’s (illegally) filming his day-to-day duties, as if making his own version of ‘Cops’, and fills the footage with a lot of macho posturing. Within 20 minutes however, after witnessing the type of incidents they have to attend daily, I understood why he and Mike act the way they do – it’s simply in order to keep sane. The two quickly find themselves out of their depth, when they make some gruesome discoveries and manage to piss off the wrong criminals.
End of Watch is a stunning portrayal of life in the police force, where you’re faced with horrors regularly, but are hamstrung by the limitations of your station. Whilst the incidents that occur in the film are at the absolute extreme end of the scale, the film somehow manages to stay believable. Gyllenhaal and Peña are brilliant and work off each other skilfully. I don’t know whether they were lucky enough to get hours and hours of rehearsal time, or whether Ayer simply shot a tonne of takes, but their banter is incredibly authentic.
The real star of the show is Ayer’s brilliant script. I shouldn’t be surprised, since he did of course write Training Day and direct Street Kings, two other excellent examples of the cop movie genre, but he really does excel here. However, there is one glaring flaw in the film, in that a portion of it – perhaps a quarter – is supposed to be found footage. Brian has his handicam and both officers are wearing micro cameras on their shirts, and the film frequently makes use of them. The problem is that it’s not clear when we’re watching diegetic found footage or normal non-diegetic footage. Several times I was surprised when a character suddenly looked down the lens and asked for the camera to be switched off, because I didn’t even realise the footage was supposed to be ‘real’. The fact that the rest of the film is shot in a handheld/ documentary style only makes it more confusing.
Otherwise, this is a fantastic film. Anna Kendrick is perfect as Brian’s girlfriend, Janet, David Harbour plays the always-pissed-off Van Hauser wonderfully, and America Ferrera has a complete transformation into the tough as nails Officer Orozco. The action is thrilling and you can feel the tension every time Brian and Mike approach a residence – you really get the sense that they could be met with violence at any moment. I’ve never seen a film that’s driven home the complexities of life on the thin blue line as successfully as End of Watch.Rating: