David Ayer has found himself a nice niche writing and directing films based around South Central Los Angeles, spending most of his time as a teenager on the areas most troubled streets (source: IMDB). Ayer’s familiarity with the gang filled streets has allowed for a high level of realism within his films, such as Dark Blue and Training Day, the latter of which earned Denzel Washington an Academy Award. Ayer’s newest film, End of Watch, falls directly in line with his previous efforts and may be his best yet.
End of Watch follows Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala as cops working one of the toughest beats in the L.A.P.D. Having graduated from the Academy together, the pair are more than just partners they are practically brothers. Always seeming to find themselves involved in high-profile activity, like a car chase that ends in a shoot-out or running into a burning building to save some kids, the duo find themselves looked upon as superstars within the department and at times believe their own press. While performing a not so random traffic stop, the partners confiscate a number of custom made weapons and a large sum of cash belonging to a major local Latino group called the Curbside Gang. Taylor’s curiosity gets the best of him after the bust, and he convinces Zavala to do some off the record investigating and follow him into a house belonging to the gang where they make a startling discovery. In retaliation for the trouble caused, one of the Mexican Cartels puts out a hit on Taylor and Zavala.
The cast of the film is led by Jake Gyllenhaal (Brian Taylor) and Michael Peña (Mike Zavala), who give convincingly demonstrate the bond shared between partners and friends. I feel like Gyllenhaal gives his best performances in these types if films, The Source Code and Jarhead being perfect examples. The underrated Michael Peña is excellent and does more than just hold his own, he co-headlines the film. It’s time that we see Peña in something more than just supporting roles, because he’s shown that he has the talent to carry a film. For the most part the characters are very realistic, from the way they respond to dispatch answering a call, how they have each other’s back no matter the reason, to the way they mock one another while out in their patrol car…these are partners dependent on one another. There are a few sequences that pushed the boundaries of belief, such as the pissing contest between Zavala and a suspect early in the film, but there weren’t many. The relationship between the two extends beyond their partnership and that’s evident on many occasions, never more so than when we see that Gyllenhaal’s Taylor is virtually a family member at a Quinceañera, a Latino celebration for girls on their 16th birthday, being held for one of Mike’s cousins.
As much as there is to like about End of Watch and the film’s realism, there are issues to be had. The biggest of which is the shaky cam/found footage style in which the movie is shot. It’s impossible to get away from because Ayer establishes Gyllenhaal’s Taylor as a student who’s filming everything for his class. We know this because each time someone complains about the camera, Taylor or Zavala explain that it’s for his class; yet we never see or hear any other mention of this class. Including it was unnecessary, as Ayer could have just as easily just shot the film in this style without explanation; although it still would have been a distraction. Another issue, and one that hurt the film’s realism happened near the climax of the film. It’s not possible to go into detail without revealing potential spoilers, but the issue is a glaring one that should elicit a response of ‘oh come on now?’ or at least a sigh of disbelief. In the end, End of Watch is a very well acted, intense and gritty film. There’s a lot of violence depicted, but no where does it feel gratuitous. Speaking for myself, South Central L.A. is one area that I’ve got no desire to end up in, no matter how good the cops are, because it’s a scary thought when cops feel like “We’re cops, everyone wants to kill us.”
Age Appropriate: 16+ (strong language, nudity, and extremely violent)
Award Possibilities: maybe something in one of the acting categories, but unlikely