Buddy cop movies are a dime a dozen, but End of Watch is a nice break from the mold. It’s the story of two south central Los Angeles police officers who take out one too many dealers and find themselves in a street war with a deadly drug cartel. A majority of the film is shot with handheld and documentary style cameras that had me feeling like I was in an extended and surprisingly engaging episode of TV’s Cops.
In a movie that is what I describe as Training Day meets The Blair Witch Project, cops and BFF’s Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Pena) roam the streets of L.A. to protect and serve. They have the tendencies of typical movie cops, acting like cowboys, always looking to go in with guns blazing. On the other hand they have a seriousness to live and die by the code of protect and serve. They go to extremes to make sure citizens are safe, but these two are no vigilantes. They know their limits and even though they push them, never once do you feel like you’re watching somebody’s best Charles Bronson impersonation. That’s where the heart comes in. Taylor and Zavala know the dangers they walk into every day, and when it’s game time they know there is no room to play around. They have families and loved ones to provide for and they know the risk associated with their job, yet still feel compelled to do it, and do it well. The margin of error with life and death with the LAPD is illustrated as we follow the guys through various distress calls. They have to run in to a burning house to try and save a child when they arrive before the fire department does. They have to enter a mysterious house before back up arrives and there could be any kind of crazy armed criminal waiting behind the door. The film really seemed to be a semi-realistic look into the everyday life of LAPD officer. It’s a rare film that actually benefits from the shaky camera action. Gyllenhaal and Pena turn in strong roles as the boys in blue and you can tell that writer/director David Ayer (Training Day, Harsh Times) has been on more than enough police ride-alongs to know what nuances his actors need to bring the cops to life on the big screen.
End of Watch keeps you engaged with nail-biting action and won’t let you go. You also stay wrapped up in the story of two best friends taking it to the streets that is both gritty and believable. Intense and originally put together, writer/director David Ayer comes away with one of the year’s big winners. Proving that with a plausible story, exceptional acting, and characters you can get behind, buddy cop movies are a hell of a lot more fun.