David Ayer’s bold police drama END OF WATCH really delivers.
“I am a consequence. I am the unpaid bill. I am fate with a badge and a gun.”
So speaks Jake Gyllenhaal’s cop in a dazzling monologue at the start of David Ayer’s drama END OF WATCH. Ayer, the writer of the equally visceral police drama Training Day, here delivers another sharp script and also goes behind the camera to show us an area of Los Angeles in all its violent and dangerous light to really accomplished effect.
We follow two cops – Jake Gyllenhaal’s chatty, highly energised ex-Marine Brian Taylor and Michael Pena‘s quieter, savvy, the soon-to-be-family man Mike Zavala – on patrol in the very mean streets of South Central, dodging bullets, catching criminals and trying not to make it on to the local gangsters hit list. But there are two elements that really set END OF WATCH apart though from your run-of-the-mill buddy or cop flick: the superb interplay between Gyllenhaal and Pena which is very witty, sarcastic and touching (apparently they didn’t hit it off when they first met but after a period of pre-production time riding with real LA cops, they totally clicked); and the hand-held camera work that gives the movie a documentary-style feel and puts you right on the streets in the shoes of the cops as they go about their daily business.
Starting from Gyllenhaal’s video diary point of view, Ayer also uses the video camera motif by the gangsters as well, so you can observe how they interact in their private moments – something you wonder whether is a successful choice at times but at least Ayer takes the idea and uses it to its full, showing you both sides of this story.
He has also gathered a really strong supporting cast to complement Gyllenhaal and Pena – David Harbour, America Ferrera, Frank Grillo and Anna Kendrick – who like the leads, portray their characters with a simplicity that’s truthful and affecting. Ayer then deftly balances really funny moments between the two main characters, when you find yourself laughing out loud at something they’ve said, with some absolutely heart-stopping moments when the cops discover the depravity of people in their pursuit of whatever they think works for them – drugs, gun-running, even slavery. These full-on scenes sometimes make the film a difficult watch but you always feel it’s not sensationalist and that Ayer has rooted what he’s showing us in events that happen with an almost calculated casualness, every day. As it’s just been released on Blu-ray and DVD, this is one you should catch.