‘I am the police, and I’m here to arrest you. You’ve broken the law. I did not write the law. I may disagree with the law but I will enforce it’ — Officer Brian Taylor.
David Ayer’s newest movie returns with another look at the LAPD, and the writer of Training Day delivers a visual tour de force that announces Michael Peña as more than just a forgettable face in a minor role. Peña plays Mike Zavala and manages to delivers a magnificent performance while still staying in lead actor Gyllenhaal’s shadow. Gyllenhaal himself portrays Officer Brian Taylor and the back and forth banter between himself and Peña gives the movie a believable backbone of brotherhood and reality. The scenes where the officers are conversing while doing their rounds of the mean streets of Los Angeles are acted so well that you almost feel like they were shot through total improvisation.
The film tells the story of these two brothers in blue and the difficulties they face daily while rolling in their black and white Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Ayer uses a scenario in the film that Taylor is shooting clips for a project and this allows Ayer to use a hand held camera to shoot scenes and mix and match the shooting styles to give the movie an even grittier vibe to it. Some scenes in the film gel well with this technique and the opening scene is a cinematic masterpiece as the two officers bring a car chase to an end in a violent and ferocious manner, all captured on Taylor’s shaky camera. There are other scenes in the movie that leave the film feeling somewhat choppy and lead to more of a distraction than an added enjoyment. Ayer uses numerous cameras in the film including Taylor’s hand-held camera, plus small spy cameras he attaches to his and Zavala’s Police uniforms, along with footage the gangbangers catch on their own cameras and also the observation camera that is part of all LAPD squad cars. This collection of shots while boundary pushing and exciting it does impact negatively at times but overall Ayer manages to keep the chopping to a minimal and delivers visual treats one after another.
The film has good supporting actors with the always excellent Anna Kendrick playing Gyllenhaal’s love interest and Natalie Martinez doing double duty as Zavala’s wife and mother of his children. While both actresses add a feminine and soft touch to this gritty picture, it is Gyllenhaal and Peña whose high testosterone and masculine laden performances steal the show right from the opening monologue that Officer Taylor gives. Throughout the movie their conversations move from intense discussions on gangbanging, human traffic and drugs to quirky family dramas or Peña delivering sarcastic racist remarks about Gyllenhaal and his ‘white person ways’. These exchanges allow for the film not to get dragged under by the dark and gritty themes and allow for a somewhat light hearted tone that in the end saves the film with the final scene.
End of Watch has the get-up-and-go drive to it that many of today’s cop films lack. It also develops and devotes major screen time to the main characters that allows for some of the most charismatic performances of the year. While not as entertaining as Training Day it is head and shoulders above Ayers previous out Street Kings. A must see.