End Of Watch

End Of Watch

***1/2

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

David Ayer knows his cop films - and with Training Day and Street Kings already behind him, his new film End of Watch plays almost like a balance between the two. Its pace is less breakneck, the action saved mostly until the end, and its scope is more narrow than those films. Essentially this is a two-man show, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña front and centre as South Central LA beat cop partners. Never off screen except for a few short scenes - the film pretty much hangs on their shoulders.

Gyllenhaal and Peña are Officers Taylor and Zavala, blue heelers patrolling south central present day LA. When we first see them, it is through the POV of Taylor's small shirt-clip camera as he attaches it in the locker room - he's recording his daily patrol for a special project. This gives the impression that we will be fly on the wall-ing it with the boys in blue, but in fact this camera POV device is only sporadically used by Ayer to increase the tension in key moments. Nevertheless, Taylor and Zavala remain our guides to LA, as we stick with them almost exclusively through a period of several weeks of usual - and unusual - patrol.

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In fact, most of the time we are viewing the two through static frontal dashboard level shots as they sit or drive around in their cruiser, bickering, joking, ribbing, talking about all the things two late 20 year old testosterone-fuelled cops would probably talk about - women, guns, marriage, the latest gang bangers they had to administer street-smart justice to. The fact that Zavala is Latino and married, and Taylor is an ex-Marine, adds more complex flavours into the mix. Its clear their friendship is deep and that this is the aspect of police work, in one of the most multicultural cities on Earth, that Ayer is most interested in exploring in the film. Gyllenhaal and the underrated Peña are never less than totally charismatic and involving, coming across as completely naturalistic and at ease in their roles and, crucially, with each other. Their banter is also very, very funny.

Much of the running time in End Of Watch is spent watching Taylor and Zavala drive, shoot the breeze, occasionally get out of the cruiser to deal with one 'only in LA' crisis after another (including a well shot, tense nighttime discovery of a shockingly brutal assault on two fellow officers from the same precinct), but a wider plot thread does emerge eventually in the film. Life becomes less routine when a traffic stop and other strange call outs leads to the discovery of weapons and drug money linked to a vicious Mexican cartel, and the duo are soon marked by a big boss who has no qualms about offing cops. Its actually a mark of Ayer's success with his actors and dialogue that the film would be perfectly enjoyable without this plot arc, which leads to an action-heavy payoff.

Excitingly shot, often with handheld cameras in low light, and with two lead actors at the top of their game (Peña deserves bigger roles after this), End Of Watch might not steer clear of cop film cliches or dig too deep into complex contemporary issues, but it really doesn't need to. Sit back and enjoy the ride with LA's finest.

Reviewed on: 15 Sep 2012
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End Of Watch packshot
Two young cops are hunted by a vicious drug cartel.
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Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, David Harbour, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Cle Shaheed Sloan, Jaime FitzSimons

Year: 2012

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

London 2012

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