"End of Watch" bleeds an authenticity that I haven't seen in the buddy cop thriller in a long time.
David Ayer, of "Training Day" writing fame, takes the director credit for the third (and most notable) time. No other film comes to mind that so accurately paints a portrait of a cop putting his life on the line -- his film isn't the scathing portrait of corrupt police officers you would expect from a guy that spent most of his adolescence in south central Los Angeles. Rather, it's a surprisingly moving tale of two ordinary cops who get in over their heads, and the consequences that could potentially have on their families.
But let's not get off on the wrong foot. Yes, this is a film that develops the off-duty lives of officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and officer Zavala (Michael Peña) with heartwarming detail. I should mention that Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez give wonderful performances as their respective wives. This is, first and foremost, a rough thriller filled with the usual cop drama fare: chase-outs, drug dealers, mean streets and gunfights.
Much of this is captured from a camera perched on the hood of the cruiser or directly recorded by Taylor, who is in a film class. I would wager that Gyllenhaal, or at least the character he plays, filmed a large chunk of the movie. Word of warning, for anyone bothered by nontraditional camerawork, especially shaky cams, steer clear of the movie. The technique heightens the drama to chilling effect but can be disorienting.
The two officers navigate the tough streets of South Central with a bravery that borders on the delusional. Their recklessness puts them in the direct line of a ruthless drug cartel operating out of the area. This is where things get gritty. I am not a big fan of "Training Day"; I thought that the film had an arrogance that made it beyond believable. Washington's character felt like a caricature of every rogue cop to have graced the screen.
Gyllenhaal and Peña play it down to earth. Their chemistry is tangible and the home lives developed onscreen give them a humanity that is largely absent in these sorts of films.
It's a refreshing take on an often tired genre, a thrilling ride to kick off the end-of-summer season.