Rating: 4 stars
This buddy cop movie, directed by David Ayers, better known for writing the screenplay for 'Training Day', keeps things gritty and real, and is an unexpected surprise in a year of mostly forgettable thrillers and overwrought blockbusters.
Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavela (Michael Pena) are two Los Angeles street cops who are not afraid to bend a few rules. In a not totally necessary move, Brian films their activities, claiming that he is doing it for his pre-Law course. The two men are close, even as they exchange small talk and uncountable expletives in their car, and so familiar that even though they've probably heard each other's stories a million times, they still have fun. When Brian starts to fall for Janet (Anna Kendrick), Zavela hands him some sound romantic advice. His wife Gabby (Natalia Martinez) even becomes good friends with Janet.
On the job, the duo bust down doors and come across scenes that test their humanity as well as their loyalty. They cross paths with a Latino gang funded by a Mexican cartel intent on taking over LA drug trade, and though this plot element plays hide and seek, it forms the final third of the film. Ayers tries to humanize the gang members, but does not really succeed, with too little screen time devoted to them.
'End of Watch' may be Gyllenhaal's best role yet
The mix between found and filmed footage, and the use of jerky camera can get vomit-inducing. It is not frequently clear whose viewpoint we're watching, and Ayers occasionally throws in some first person POV shots that make the audience feel like they're playing a first person shooting game. When the cops have to rescue some children from a burning house, it comes across like a journey into hell, as the two crawl amongst corridors filled with smoke and fire.
When the two cops break into apartments and put their lives in danger, one can only hold one's breath. Ayers gives the scenes from the point of view of the cops, who do not know what's behind the door. The situations they encounter are brutal and harrowing, and Brian seems to be suffering from the police equivalent of PSTD.
This may be Gyllenhaal's best role yet, while Pena, who played a less than savoury cop in the acclaimed TV series The Shield, is also superb. It's the chemistry between them that Ayers captures which really make the film work. Gyllenhaal, with his often irresponsible demeanour and rakish charm, gives a commanding and affecting performance. He's a tough cop, but some of the experiences reduce him to tears. Pena, as a committed family man who loves his wife, is a sharp contrast, and also excellent.
Even though the ending is a little off-key, with everything tied up a little too conveniently, ‘End of Watch’ is still one of the best cop movies to hit the screens in a long time. It's suspenseful and exciting, yet never forgets about the human side.