Ayler has quite the track record for films set on the streets of Los Angeles, especially concerning the LAPD. Ayer was responsible for the screenplay for the critically-acclaimed Training Day, as well as criminally under-rated gems such as Harsh Times and Dark Blue (possibly one of Kurt Russell’s finest, but lesser seen performances). He also directed mildly disappointing 2008 effort Street Kings, and wrote S.W.A.T, but these are minor blotches on his record. In general, Ayler has quite the pedigree for films focused on gritty, realistic portrayals of the tensions between gangs and police in LA, so it was no surprise to find out he was to be the man behind End of Watch.
End of watch follows the movements of LAPD officers Brian (Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Pena) as they go about their daily routine on patrol around LA, looking at their relationship with each other as well as with their wives, friends and fellow cops. However, after a shocking discovery, they become targets for a Mexican drug cartel intent on removing Brian and Mike from the streets by any means necessary.
End of Watch is not your average "cops on the streets" movie. Filmed mostly from the point of view of a dashboard-mounted camera (ostensibly for Brian’s evening class in film-making) it spends much more time than you would expect focused on the relationship between the two leads. Thankfully, there is an excellent sense of chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena, as well as a sharp and witty script. Both characters joke and make wisecracks at each other's expense, with a number of moments being genuinely amusing. As expected, Kendrick puts in an excellent perfoemance as the love interest to Gyllenhaal’s Brian, but her role is somewhat limited, mostly because the main focus is always on relationship between Brian and Mike, a "bromance" if you will. While this approach does highlight the strong bond between the partners, it does seem almost a waste to cast such a talented actress in a role that doesn’t allow her to fully showcase her considerable talents.
One of the more prominent issues I had with End of Watch is the pacing of the film. While I appreciate the need to establish the cop/buddy dynamic, and to convey the foibles of the two main characters, it takes an awfully long time to get to the inciting incident that ultimately shapes the latter parts of the film. It’s not a major issue, and what comes before that is certainly enjoyable, but it does leave the audience wondering where the story is going, as it seems to lack direction for a large portion of the second act.
Gyllenhaal should be very much lauded for his work in End of Watch. He has clearly immersed himself deeply in the role and is utterly believable as an LAPD cop. I have often found Gyllenhaal’s acting to be wooden, or just flat out annoying, but in the last year or so he has matured massively as an actor, and this film is proof positive of how far he has come.
End of Watch has a few minor problems, but not enough to impact to any great degree. It is an enjoyable twist on the classic LA cop story, with a sweet centre at it’s heart, mixing romance, friendship, tragedy and action without losing its gritty exterior or its grounding as a very realistic feeling portrayal of life as an LA cop.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with writer/director Ayer; deleted scenes; an alternative ending; interviews with Gyllenhaal and Peña; a BAFTA Q&A with Peña and producer John Lesher.