End of Watch is darkly compelling
End of Watch
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Rated 18A. Opens Friday, September 21, at the Park Theatre
Filmmaker David Ayer grew up in South Central L.A. and is fascinated by the ambiguous role of police there, as seen in such titles as Training Day, which he wrote, and Street Kings, which he directed from a James Ellroy story. In the darkly compelling End of Watch, the cops under glass are less amorphous and, certainly, cleaner—they’re clearly invested in doing the right thing—even if the world around them grows murkier every day.
The movie starts with the conceit of veteran officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) filming himself and partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) throughout their daily routine. Over a short period, this includes high-speed chases, various takedowns and fistfights, and interdepartmental squabbles, as well as enough snappy squad-car patter to fill another season of Hill Street Blues. Unbeknownst to Brian and Z, as they call each other, they’ve also accidentally stepped into some deep doo-doo left behind by Mexican drug cartels seemingly making gruesome new trouble north of the border.
Our guys never really figure out what’s happening, but they stay busy. Z’s wife (Natalie Martinez) is about to have a baby, and college boy (and ex-Marine) Brian gets involved with a supersmart gal (Anna Kendrick). They also offer up some genuine heroics (twice, at least), which they agonize over as much as they do the creepy stuff.
While Gyllenhaal and Peña dominate the proceedings with intense performances, the director turns up the narrative heat—perhaps diffusing the story in the process—by showing surveillance footage of cartel communications and spending quality time with Chicano gangbangers, themselves digitally recording their own tattoo-and-expletive-spattered machinations.
Ayer is trying to say something about our increasingly overdocumented environment, but like our frequently traumatized boys in blue, we never quite see the big picture—especially since he drops the theme right near the end. But the movie is so well-written, -acted, and -paced, we can forgive it the few layers it lacks.
Watch the trailer for End of Watch.