David Ayer, screenwriter of 2001’s Training Day, has a history of making cop movies. You might be forgiven for cringing internally at the prospect of yet another film about rogue cops cleaning up the mean streets by no one’s rules but their own (a genre which hasn’t really produced anything noteworthy since Lethal Weapon). But please don’t judge the book by the cover; End of Watch really has much more to offer than this.
End of Watch centres around two patrol officers in the LAPD; Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña). Brian is young, single and on the hunt for a girl that he can “actually talk to.” Though roughly the same age Mike is, by contrast, a long-married father, and so often finds himself being consulted by Brian on a wide range of topics about marriage, children and women in general. Having been partners for years, the two are extremely close, and some of the most engaging scenes in the movie feature the banter which they share during the quieter moments of their patrols.
Though Mike and Brian spend much of their working day skylarking, laughing and making general nuisances of themselves around the station, they are both aware of the serious nature of their jobs, and are driven by a strong sense of moral obligation to do what is right. Though this does lead them to be decorated for heroism by the LAPD, it comes with a downside. Their tenacity in pursuing drug busts in their vicinity eventually brings them to the attention of a major drug cartel, which decides that immediate action must be taken in order to deal with the meddlesome cops.
End of Watch does seem to feature an inordinate amount of car chases, drug busts and beat downs, but it is in general a frank and sobering look at a day in the life of an LAPD officer. We are told early on that Brian is filming a documentary for a college module, and so (for the most part), the movie is shot in hand-held camera style. Though at times inconsistent, it is also a factor in bringing the audience closer to the protagonists, and creates a much more intimate atmosphere.
End of Watch is an enjoyable, brutally realistic film, as Mike and Brian’s witty dialogue is set against a backdrop of savage violence, intimidation and corruption. The perps and drug dealers are gritty and real, and in no way construe the life of crime as being glamorous or romantic, as many recent films seem to do. The picture almost seems to have a reverence for the work of the LAPD, and the police in general. Brian makes a point of this in his opening monologue; “although I am but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me. They will lay down their lives for me and I them. We stand watch together. The thin-blue-line, protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police.” Take this attitude whichever way you like, End of Watch is certainly a movie worth seeing, and marks a stellar directorial debut for the new sheriff of cop movies, David Ayer.