|End of Watch
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick,Frank Grillo
Directed by David Ayer
If you have seen past crime dramas like Training Day and Harsh Times then you've been exposed to the work of writer/director David Ayer. As a fan of Training Day and most police procedural films and shows, I figured the End of Watch would be right up my alley. It delivered the goods and then some. End of Watch takes us on a tour of the day to day life of South Central Los Angeles police officers from the point-of-view of the men and women behind the badge, to the smallest detail. From roll call and patrols to the arrests being made, the film feels like a ride along to the viewer. Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) even carries a digital movie camera and a mini clip-on camera pinned to his chest, as part of a college class, to capture everything he experiences on his watch. He's kind enough to show us the standard issue gear the folks in blue wear on the job. In fact, one of the most memorable quotes from the film was by Officer Michael Zavala (Michael Peña) referring to said equipment, "the most important thing in policing is comfortable shoes."
These two young officers, Taylor and Zavala protect and serve, as well as serve as our tour guides during the End of Watch. The films opening scene comes from a first person prospective with these two cops in their car during a high speed pursuit of runaway gang bangers. It's more or less is a backdrop to Taylor's narrative on what makes a cop and how they're different, yet the same as everyone else, including criminals. This sequence is the perfect introduction to these super cop characters and offers a sample size of the chaos that lies ahead.
These partners, much to the dismay of their Sarge (Frank Grillo) and Van Hauser, a fellow officer (David Harbour), tend to bite off much more than they can chew by going above and beyond what their job entails. A result everyone believes will end with them being dismissed from the force or even worse, dead. Unlike the typical police seen in Ayer's previous films, Taylor and Zavala enjoy delivering justice and making a solid bust that takes the "main food groups"--Guns, Drugs and Money off of the streets. It's these kind of foolish/semi-heroic exploits that put them in the respective cross hairs of the gang members they're after and much bigger fish, the Mexican drug cartel.
There's another unique perspective Ayer throws into End of Watch at times, which is that of the Latino bangers called Curbside (both men and women) that Taylor and Zavala often harass in the early going. We watch a new recruit earn his stripes in the gang via a drive-by shooting on a neighboring gang of Bloods. As the cops mess with Curbside on noise complaints and home searches, the audience in turn gets to experience the reaction from the perspective of the villain, most notably one tough hombre named Big Evil (Maurice Compte). The Bloods conflict with the two is also present to show why they are so hated, yet respected by their adversaries.
The main problem with these cops being so gung-ho and interested in the dealings of Curbside and associates is it makes them a target to be "green lit" by the cartel. Meaning a badge and a gun won't do much to protect them from easily being shot up by the bad guys.
What's equally impressive about the portrayal of these officers and the danger and difficulty in their work, is catching a glimpse of them as best friends off duty. Zavala, a married man and expecting father can bust Taylor's balls about his new girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) on and off the job, because they share a mutual respect. The two are basically brothers, and often profess how much they love each other. The term bro-mance is frequently brought up by their wives and peers. Their chemistry adds a lot of light-hearted comedy to an intense drama, which otherwise doesn't have many feel good moments.
But it's this dynamic between Zavala and Taylor and how much they care about one another that makes the viewer really, really hope for the best outcome for them. However, this is an crime drama, so don't expect our protagonists to receive puppy dogs and ice cream for stirring the hornets' nest in gangland.
As a big fan of this genre End of Watch far exceeded my expectations, being perhaps the best cop drama I've seen on the big screen in years, easily the most realistic. Gyllenhaal and Peña's performances of two hard-nosed cops/everyday guys are the foundation of what sets this one apart from Ayer's previous films. And this is coming from someone that thoroughly enjoyed Training Day.
If you can handle a film centered on cops (seen from their point of view) with plenty of shootouts, a high bodycount, beyond evil criminals, tough moral decision making, and lots of disturbing imagery, then go see End of Watch.
FYI this definitely isn't a date movie...Not for the faint of heart either.