It may surprise most people when I say that End of Watch is a film about relationships, mortality, and what it means to be a part of a family, in this case, a family of police officers. Words like heartfelt and moving are not often used when describing action movies, but End of Watch manages to be both an intense action film and a well humored buddy cop movie while incorporating a few weighty, emotional moments. This is a film with a lot to offer. It would be damned impressive if you walked away from this film liking nothing about it.
The premise is nothing we haven’t seen before. The story of two young up and comers in one of the most dangerous police divisions in the country, dealing with violent criminals in South Central LA. It’s the quality of the characters that sets End of Watch apart for your average cop thriller. Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a smart guy, working as a cop to help pay his way through graduate school while searching for a girlfriend who can actually match his intellect. Michael Peña’s character, Officer Mike Zavala, works well as both the wise cracking comic relief in this film, but also serves as a foil to Officer Taylor, as he is the dedicated husband and father that Taylor wants to one day become. Not only are both of these characters fully fleshed out, but they are people first, and cops second.
The success of this film as a whole is the result of two very strong and very honest performances from Peña and Gyllenhaal. The onscreen camaraderie of this duo is believable and highly entertaining, resulting in some quality comedic banter as well as more than a couple tender moments. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast, as most of the other officers felt stiff and callous, and the actors who played Big Evil’s gang members were a definite weak point for this film. Even so, the performances of Peña and Gyllenhaal are strong enough to carry the movie, and the always fantastic Anna Kendrick does a respectable job as Gyllenhaal’s on screen love interest.
The first half of this film plays out a little bit like a well written version of the TV show Cops. There is no real central conflict. We simply follow the day to day actions of Taylor and Zavala as they take emergency calls and deal with the dark side of LA. The world-building in this movie is important to point out, as writer/director David Ayer paints the audience a picture of a community nearly devoid of any real morals and an often grisly and graphic string of egregious crimes police officers may have to deal with. Without spoiling the film, and be warned there is one big spoiler at the end that could ruin your enjoyment of the film; the third act is really where this film shines. It is action packed, shocking, and something that really sets this movie apart from any kind of traditional buddy cop film.
This movie isn’t perfect, the script has a few issues and it has real trouble deciding if it is a found footage film or not. Even with its flaws though, this movie has a big heart and made quite the impression on me as a viewer. For those who are still skeptical, just go see it, I doubt you will be disappointed.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5