I imagine End of Watch as the kind of action thriller that appeals to a younger demographic — it moves with rapid fire momentum; letting off at the right junctures, allowing an arresting finale to hammer in.
Jake Gyllenhaal is former US Marine Brian Taylor and Michael Peña is Mike Zavala — both are foul-mouthed and mischievous small-time officers of the LAPD patrolling South Central Los Angeles. Tasked to submit a film project for his art elective in Uni, Brian documents work on the go with nifty little spy cameras that will put investigative journalists to shame. His partner and buddy is Mike, a Mexican notorious for hilarious commentary on all types of clichés and stereotypes too juicy to describe in this review.
What makes this film exhilarating material as well, is urgent development of two likable characters through sparks of ingenious incidents. As Brian and Mike patrol the ghettos.; they survive thumping dangers that range from breaking out domestic fights, sparring hot-headed homies, to rescuing children trapped in burning houses. As banal and trite as these dramatic encounters may sound, writer-director David Ayer (Street Kings, Harsh Times) evens out the effect with contemporary (and politically incorrect) narratives. The most important vibe being released, is that of a sense that these crime fighters are getting by with natural smarts, some muscle and sheer dumb luck — they scrape by in the game perhaps by chance — one fine day, being brazen and impulsive might do them in.
Looming threat on the horizon is a Mexican street gang connected to Sinaloa Cartel, an organized crime syndicate with operations Brian and Mike thwarted in a premeditated raid on one of their hideouts. A hit is thus ordered on their heads; while nefarious baddies plot to outsmart and assassinate them, we venture deeper into the pair’s private and emotional lives.
End of Watch works by virtue of witty dialogue, good rapport between the actors and a highly entertaining premise. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov captures the hot; salty air of life, movement and violence in the streets of LA. While editor Dody Dorn cuts between documentary, surveillance and actual film footage with a keen sense of kinetic precision without ever losing sight of continuity—this, is no easy feat.
Ayer himself; has a sharp ear for rhythm in the vein of Tarantino, capturing torrents of expletives that snaps and pops nicely like a spontaneous rap battle between the two leads. This is crucial in justifying found-footage technique — a pair of theatrical wisecracks hamming it up for the camera — further put to clever use in enhancing intense, sweaty, claustrophobic scenes.
Apart from modern context based on a generation fixated with social media and blog TV; End of Watch works on the strength of two factors: a sturdy action-driven plot; and a completely believable human complex of reckless idealism, vanity, pure courage and camaraderie.