Review: End of Watch

Dan Leigh 24 December 2012

End of Watch

End of Watch will take audiences by surprise. The posters and trailers seem to sell it as a full-throttle, gun-toting cop movie, a wild ride through the most perilous streets of L.A.. However, what we get is an extremely realistic and touching insight into the lives of two officers, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena respectively, both on and off the beat as they unwittingly become embroiled in the brutal conflict between powerful drug cartels, events that are beyond their brief and their control.

David Ayer fuses these two elements to brilliant and evocative effect. The film is shot primarily through hand-held cameras, something that does not quite fit in with the plot but nonetheless lends a strong sense of realism and intimacy as we become privy to the lives of the buddy cops. The strength of the film lies in the central performances: Gyllenhaal and Pena are brilliant. Their chemistry and banter are easy and natural, and they even received several laughs (at appropriate moments, I must add!). We also see the development of Taylor’s love affair with Janet (the lovely Anna Kendrick) and Zavala’s happy marriage with Gabby (Natalie Martinez). These guys are more than just police officers, and therefore when the violence begins to escalate, it carries real power and emotional weight.

In a time where shows like The Wire are demonstrating the moral ambiguity surrounding the criminals and the enforcers, in End of Watch we are never in any doubt who the good guys are; in fact the bad guys are so bad that it’s somewhat oppressive, and even a little dull. Thankfully, Ayer doesn’t dwell on them too much.

End of Watch proves to be a cop movie with heart: the central focus of Taylor and Zavala’s relationship is engaging in itself, and ultimately lends more power to the violence that builds throughout and explodes at the climax.

Dan Leigh