Writer/Director David Ayer has become well-known for creating flicks dealing with criminals. In Harsh Times and Street Kings he shows what it was like to get pulling into a life of crime. His latest feature, End of Watch, also deals felonies, but from a perspective that this filmmaker hasn't explored before: this time it's the cops who are pulling in over their heads. When two young and good-natured officers seize some guns and money during a traffic stop, they soon find themselves with a the target of cartel hitmen. It's a taut, well scripted film with an excellent cast that's well worth checking out.
Two Los Angeles police officers, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peņa), patrol some of the city's most dangerous streets in south central Los Angeles. Brian decides to record his life as an officer with a handheld camera. Once Taylor is scolded for recording while he's on duty, he clips hidden cameras onto himself and his partner. The two partners find themselves in way over their heads once they realize that they've been investigating the operations of a drug cartel and become targets.
The well-written dialogue shines as one of the film's biggest strengths. When Taylor and Zavala are cruising in their patrol car, they pick on each other and talk about their lives outside of work. There's a frequent humorous bond shared between the two characters, which fits into the flow of this feature very well. Ayer does an excellent job conveying the relationship between the two officers. Their discussions come across as being incredibly realistic, giving that "fly on the wall" effect. The balance between the drama, humor, and action is solid. End of Watch is able to change its tone incredibly quickly without any issues. One moment you'll be laughing and the next you'll be engaged in an intense or emotional scene. Ayer has crafted a screenplay that successfully keeps audiences hooked and enjoying every minute with these protagonists. There are some more mellow scenes where viewers are able to get to know Taylor and Zavala when they aren't on duty. Zavala is happily married to his high school sweetheart, while Taylor is tired of the dating world, but eventually meets a smart and confident woman by the name of Janet (Anna Kendrick). While she draws more depth out of Taylor, the development of the relationship isn't fleshed out. There's an extremely short period of time in between seeing Janet on screen for the first time to their wedding day.
End of Watch has some plot holes that can't be ignored. There isn't much of an explanation as to why the gang is attempting to kill Taylor and Zavala all of a sudden. It doesn't make sense how the members of the gang are even able to identify them. This film tries to fit a lot into its running time, which resulted in some sub-plots not receiving the time they needed. An extra fifteen minutes would have made a big difference. Regardless of the plot holes, the climax of this movie will have your eyes glued to the screen. The character development established earlier in the film has created a strong finale. They're human beings and that's kept in mind during the action sequences. There aren't any unrealistic action sequences to be found. Realism is an important factor in End of Watch, which creates more tension by making viewers worried about whether or not the leads will be victorious.
The cast is a real powerhouse. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peņa deliver marvelous performances. The relationship between the two actors comes across as incredibly believable. Their dialogue sounds almost improvised when they're having discussions while on patrol. The actors are very genuine. Anna Kendrick is excellent as Janet. This is a small supporting role, but she manages to bring a wide array of dynamics to this role. However, I would have liked to see more of her interactions with Gyllenhaal. This is a small and extremely talented cast.
David Ayer decided to film End of Watch in a specific style. The story doesn't make the handheld camera footage necessary. In some films, it can be an enhancer to create more tension. It's meant to increase urgency and provide a more realistic tone. However, it actually hurts the presentation in this case. There's a constant shift from camera to camera, but none of the characters are able to keep the cameras stable, which makes it difficult to see what's happening during some of the action sequences. Otherwise, the few action scenes that are stable look great.
End of Watch is one of the better cop-fiction features I've seen in a while. The script is solid and the dialogue is exceptional. Realism is a crucial element of this film, which greatly works to its advantage. The characters are likable and the actors deliver a moviegoing experience that engages its viewers from the first frame. There are a lot of flicks that center around law enforcement, but there aren't very many that can be as personal as End of Watch. Despite its flaws, this is an engaging experience that's worth checking out.