End of Watch (dir. David Ayer, 2012) – Police officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala tread on dangerous territory when their unwitting recklessness provokes a notorious cartel.
A shaky beginning does little to hinder the thrills of this gripping and down-to-earth law enforcement story.
Director David Ayer knows the crime thriller genre well enough, with acclaimed titles like Street Kings and Training Day under his belt. In End of Watch, he revisits the familiar gangland of his hometown and avoids rehashed drivel, while delivering a gritty and authentic look into the morally intricate world of law enforcement.
A dramatic monologue sets up the story as Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) recites in relative monotony, “I am the Police, and I am here to arrest you.” It is a hackneyed beginning that is thankfully brief.
Alongside officer Miguel Zavala (Michael Peña), their jokes cease as their reckless acts land them in trouble. Soon, they find themselves in the radar of menacing criminals.
With graphic violence and apt profanities, the reality of the underworld plays out its shocking brutality. Gang slang by the bucketful draws us into the cartel’s unfamiliar dangerous territory, transforming the town into a character on its own.
Through Taylor’s lens, the occasional found-footage shots bring us closer to the characters and the carnage. Intermittent changes in format, used in moderation, do little to distract.
Lighter moments come in the banter on their routine patrols and their day-to-day lives beyond their jobs. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña share an effortless rapport. The charismatic duo shines in their natural interactions and grounded conversations, revealing a strong partnership that extends to close family ties.
Taking a welcome break from the Hollywood slew of superhuman Bourne-esque spies, the emotive story focuses on harrowing drama over action-driven thrills. Centring on the two young officers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, the exceptional End of Watch stands out in the packed crime genre with its heartfelt and moving realism.