End of Watch movie review
Writer David Ayer has much to say about the streets of LA. A quick IMDb search reveals a laundry list of credits for films set there. His best, Training Day, delved into the worst areas of South Central, and End of Watch makes a return to that hallowed ground more than ten years later. With that setting, he captures that same magic he managed with Denzel Washington, but from a wholly new perspective.
Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are two hotshot cops. Young, brash, and actually pretty good at what they do, we are taken on their journey through the good and the bad. This is the crime-ridden world from the absolute good side, from the cops that may make dumb decisions, but are ultimately trying to do the right thing.
Brian is all about his new cameras, planning to document his daily work despite the complaints from his fellow officers. This lends the film a found footage style in certain scenes, though it's more often a mixed media collage of traditional cinematography, gun-mounted cameras, night vision, cop car cameras, and more. The effect can seem a bit haphazard at times, and the typical, contrived necessity of the handheld cameras is especially jarring in such a gritty crime world. When a Hispanic gang member insists that he needs to bring a camera to a shootout, End of Watch gets a bit lost in its own premise.
Still, the crazy collage of cinematography does lend the story an intimate realism. That realism is bolstered by the performances of Gyllenhaal and Peña, who are simply brilliant as two young guys in a dangerous world with their whole lives ahead of them. They're believable as partners and friends, charming and hilarious in some moments and heartbreaking in others.
The plot follows the two through a loose thread of day-in-the-life moments, presumably taking place over the course of a few years. We are shown some of the worst of what they see every day, from random shootings to a string of crimes related to cartel presence in the neighborhood.
We are also shown the quiet moments when the two, sleep deprived and stuck in a late shift, spill their hearts to each other. They live and love between the heroic moments, and it's all handled with a convincing level of humanity. It's bolstered by smaller but equally excellent performances by Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez, the love interests that keep the two grounded. It's hard not to buy into these characters and the emotional rollercoaster they take us on.
Sure, maybe this all sounds like well-worn territory, but End of Watch comes at it with a ballsy attitude and a whole lot of heart. The story goes in some surprising directions that don't always work, but genuine performances win out in the end. Like the great Training Day, End of Watch takes us to the seediest corners of the world and shows us the fascinating characters these circumstances breed.