End of Watch, the latest film from the writer-director David Ayer, once again shines a light on the ins and outs of the U.S law enforcement. Unlike his previously released L.A set-cop thrillers, Training Day and Street Kings, End of Watch takes a surprising turn, for the good.
Set in the dodgy back-streets of South Central Los Angeles, End of Watch follows the story of good cops, Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Peña). Taylor, an ex marine who has recently chosen filmmaking as an art elective while finishing his law degree, carries around a camcorder everywhere he goes, documenting the daily lives of ‘cops on the job’. His partner, Mike a.k.a ‘Z’ – the mellower of the two – is not only a dedicated police officer but also a devoted husband with a baby on the way.
The dynamic duo, who also happen to be very good friends, spend much of their days cruising around and making fun of each other in a way that only close buddies do. The audience gets to witness the pair respond to various and seemingly dangerous ‘call-outs’, which include missing juveniles, stolen car-chases and burning houses. There is nothing that the boys can’t handle and the Medal of Honor they quickly earn only proves it.
Before long though, their curiosity into the operations of a Latino gang they keep stumbling upon gets the better of them, leading them into very unwelcoming waters of a major Mexican drug cartel.
First and foremost, the decision to bring more focus onto the characters and their lives both on and off duty is what makes this film a success. The story builds emotion and the love shared between the twosome is intoxicating.
Although disturbing at times, the stylish found-footage aesthetics surprisingly works. The feeling of being right there in the action is pleasing, and just when you think you cannot handle anymore of the jerky cam shots, Ayer levels it out with first-person perspective. Both Taylor and Zavala have their cameras pinned to their uniforms and the camcorder mounted on the front of their black and white; even the Hispanic posse have their own video recording sessions. Every move is noted and marked, making everyone a part of their own film.
The storyline is good, visuals even better but the most outstanding element of this spine-tingling cop-drama is the performance provided by the two leading characters. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña is alluring; the two bounce off each other like there’s no tomorrow. Behind his famous good-looks, Oscar-nominee Gyllenhaal once again proves that he is a phenomenal actor. As the second-in-command, Peña finally gets some well-deserved screen time and ends up being the beating heart of the story.
Ferrera, of Ugly Betty fame, in the role of a trash-talking female police officer, also works to remarkable effect. Kendrick and Martinez also present well as the ladies behind the boys in blue. Martinez in particular steals the thunder and stands out from the entire supporting cast.
Astoundingly self-assured and thrilling, End of Watch is easily one of 2012’s best action films.