David Ayer has made a career out of films about the LAPD and gangland violence in South Central L.A., as the writer of Training Day, and as director of films like Harsh Times and Street Kings. Though his directorial outings have been met with mixed results, End of Watch might prove to end that streak. The film stars Jake Gylenhaal and Michael Peña as the two white knights of the LAPD.
Brian Taylor (Gylenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Peña) are friends and partners who have a reputation on the force for their unflinching dedication to justice. Taylor is filming the day-to-day activities on the force for a film class that he is taking, even after multiple warnings from other officers against it. Taylor and Zavala aren’t completely by the book however, as they seem to have a “see no evil” approach to lesser crimes such as disorderly conduct IE drunkenly yelling at the mailman. The two partners follow up on a recent arrest they made and begin to find themselves out of their element and in the middle of a drug cartel war.
End of Watch succeeds where other films by Ayer have not because of the characterizations of Taylor and Zavala. These two officers aren’t the morally ambiguous cops that populate cinema these days, they are good men who are loyal to the badge, to the women they love and to each other. The debates they have in their squad car give a good insight into their values and their hearts. Peña portrays a likeable brother in Zavala, who is content with his life and unconcerned with the soul searching that Taylor suffers from. Gylenhaal brings a wide-eyed honesty to Taylor, always trying to better himself. Anna Kendrick plays the minor role of Taylor’s love interest Janet, another character that makes Kendrick so damn American Sweetheart-like its almost too much to bear. Almost.
As the horrified elderly women who sat behind me in the theater can attest to, End of Watch is pretty damn violent. There are battered women, brutally maimed police officers and dead bodies that are disposed of by people who probably watch way too much Dexter. The violence never becomes too over the top however, and adds to the heightened tension of the film. Gang violence is upsetting to watch, it’s so senseless and random; but unfortunately it is a reality that is merely depicted on screen. What I find hard to believe is that while Taylor was making his little work documentary, the gangs they were fighting also seemed to be making their debut film. What a coincidence, am I right? Maybe they were in the same film class and didn’t even realize it.
P.S. Props to the filmmakers for putting Public Enemy’s “Harder Than You Think” to good use. PE has still got it.
Final Grade: ★★★★ 4/5 Stars