Police films actually cover quite a broad spectrum, think of the difference between ‘Se7en’ and say, ‘Rush hour 2’. Over the last decade or so, writer/director David Ayer has been something of a specialist in cop movies for better (‘Training Day’) and worse (‘S.W.A.T.’). In ‘End of Watch’ though, he may have hit on the makings for the ultimate cop thriller.
The range on display in ‘End of Watch’ is quite remarkable; it can go from exhilarating chases to laugh-out-loud comedy to romance to violent shoot-outs to being horrifically disturbing and more without anything ever feeling forced or out of place.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as two LAPD officers who, in the course of their daily policing, come across evidence leading to a notorious (and incredibly foul-mouthed) Hispanic gang, led by a man calling himself ‘Big Evil’.
Gyllenhaal and Pena apparently underwent 5 months of training for their roles, and while I can’t really comment on how realistic their portrayals were (they certainly seemed so), this has also paid off in the form of their banter. When talking together they never feel like actors reciting lines but genuinely seem like two good friends ripping on each other. Both actors give excellent performances, and this may get the underrated Pena into the spotlight at last. You get the impression that these are just normal guys, doing a job, in which they might happen to face life-threatening danger.
A risky choice the film takes is that Gyllenhaal’s character takes a camera with him when working for a project he is making. One of the opening scenes is filmed with this, worryingly suggesting that it might be a dreaded ‘found footage’ movie (a criminal gang uses a video camera at one point to). However we needn’t worry, the shot-onscreen footage doesn’t make up the majority of the film and it all blends together well. Its style and subject matter draws favourable comparisons to ‘The Shield’ (in which Pena also featured), but ‘End of Watch’ sets itself apart by having its characters be more likeable than morally ambiguous anti-heroes, not to mention being free from the content restrictions of network TV.
‘End of Watch’ is a gripping thriller that takes you through a great deal of emotions, aiming for realism but never letting that prevent it from being relentlessly exciting. One of the year’s best.