End of Watch is captivating and emotional
With countless procedural cop dramas on network and cable TV, it’d be easy to figure End of Watch can’t possibly have anything new to add let alone be worth two hours of your time. But if you did, you’d be cheating yourself out of seeing one of those rare brilliant dramas that feels so real you forget what you’re watching has been carefully edited, acted, written and researched.
David Ayer, the writer of Training Day and director of the under-appreciated Street Kings, is completely in his element bringing the gritty, unfiltered look at police work. He’s able to make an officer’s life seem exhilarating without glamorizing it. This isn’t a police propaganda piece — we’re shown various sides to the job from tedious paperwork to car chasing shootouts to horrific crime scenes — but Ayer offers a comprehensive look at an officer’s life.
Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña, Gangster Squad) are longtime partners on the LAPD and are so tight they consider the other more a brother than a co-worker. Long stretches of the film focus solely on Brian and Mike so the film’s success largely hinges on Gyllenhaal and Peña’s ability to connect with each other and the audience. Their chemistry is so genuine you forget they’re acting as they provide career-best performances. In a sense, it’s Ayer’s anti-Training Day as we’re shown partners who would truly take a bullet for the other.
Brian is documenting their exploits for a film project and carries along a handheld video camera as well as two smaller records attached to their uniforms. Ayer falls a bit too hard for the documentary style shooting perspective and utilizes it for moments
Brian isn’t recording such as his budding romance with the intriguing Janet (Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air) and fun double dates with Mike and his pregnant wife, Gabby (Natalie Martinez, Broken City). It’s intended to provide a more immediate and intimate feel, but it gets disorienting at times and distracting in others, specifically when he shoots other characters in the same manner as if everyone is recording their every move for prosperity’s sake.
Ayer methodically stages the looming threat from a gang seeking to expand its reach. The gang is part of a Mexican drug cartel and is on a seemingly inevitable collision with Brian and Mike, who are getting in deeper and deeper above their heads despite warnings from fellow officers, other gangs and federal agents.
Ayer masterfully builds this sense of dread and apprehension for the viewer, who has now become so attached to Brian and Mike that they’d prefer to watch them — as they offhandedly mention in one scene — take in a Dodgers game so as not to put themselves in harm’s way.
It’s an amazing accomplishment as we’re legitimately concerned about Mike and Brian surviving through to the end credits, not simply considering them untouchable superheroes. And when that fateful showdown occurs, it proved more nerve-racking than most climactic action moments I’ve seen in years.
End of Watch is a deeply affecting, powerful film that goes beyond mere entertainment. It’s a thrilling experience that fully explores the bond of two partners bound by duty and friendship in a way that few films have accomplished in such a satisfying manner. Highly recommended.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10