Director: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña
Running Time: 109 mins
Release: Nov 23rd
“I am a consequence. I am the unpaid bill. I am fate with a badge and a gun,” a cop’s voiceover brags at the beginning of End of Watch, his car speeding behind a perp’s vehicle. As played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Officer Taylor is the sort of swaggering, arrogant character that populates American crime movies and James Elroy novels. But the actor also imbues him with cheekiness and playfulness; qualities that are trademarks of Gyllenhaal, regardless of whether he’s playing an LA cop, a closeted cowboy or a prince of Persia.
End of Watch is at once a cop thriller, partly a mockumentary and, maybe most of all, a love story. Officers Taylor and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña, excellent) are partners, brothers in arms and best friends. These cops (based on a pair of real officers, incidentally) clearly spend much more time together than with their other colleagues, their families or their romantic partners. Their semi-improvised, teasing and confessional cop car conversations make up some of the film’s highlights.
The loose plot kicks in when they run afoul of a mysterious local hood, a man who has high-level criminal connections.
Writer/director David Ayer is still probably best-known for his Training Day screenplay, but he also directed Harsh Times and Street Kings. All of his films are mythic, gritty crime dramas set on the streets of LA. Some might argue that he makes the same film every time, but when the results are as successful as this, does it really matter?
End of Watch has a restlessness and energy that never subsides. Much of the action is hand-held. Point of view shots are frequently used in the action scenes (evoking video games at times). Not for the first time in an Ayer film, the locations are noticeably effective; rundown, character filled messes of neglected ghetto.
The only real complaint with the film is Officer Taylor’s documenting of his day-to-day work. This, supposedly, is a device to allow for some direct-to-camera pieces, but feels like a contrivance.
Overall, though, End of Watch is an edgy, angst-ridden, intelligent thriller that feels utterly authentic—a similar vibe to the edgy American cop movies of the ‘70s. As well as a bro-mantic central relationship, it has a few nuggets of social commentary too. “Don’t you have souls?” the captain asks an especially jaded cop and her partner. “We like to leave them at home,” she shrugs.