Writer-director David Ayer really likes cop-themed movies, apparently. He’s done all kinds, from frivolous fun ones (S.W.A.T) to police corruption (“Street Kings,” “Dark Blue,” “Training Day”) ones. These have all been riveting in their own way and “End of Watch” is no exception, but this is fairly new territory in that it breaks down the brotherhood of cops.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena play Brian and Mike, South Central partners declared ready to return to active duty once a shooting of theirs is deemed justifiable. Their patrol consists of the usual dirtbags, intolerable cruelty, and chances to play hero (save some kids during a house fire, make a huge drug bust) but it’s on an assignment that they hope could up their pay grade to detective that they discover drugs are not the only thing being bought and sold.
Ayer has constructed a drama that has all the single-camera grittiness of some of the best cop shows like “Southland,” the blood, violence, and street slang are all there. His misstep is confusingly filming most (if not all) of this through the camcorders or button-cams of his characters, at times its difficult to determine who is and how are they filming this shot.
Mostly, however, this is about guys united by a job to serve and protect, not just the community, but each other. Gyllenhaal and Pena have a perfect camaraderie, from the way they joke around with each other to how they talk about personal relationships to the close Uncle-like way they fit into each others’ families. They also work well in action scenes, striking a kind of relaxed intensity.
While cops having loyalty and infinite gratitude for the guys they stand with, and the guys who have fallen in the service of saving their partners and others, is not exactly anything new, “End of Watch” portrays a partnership that is actually pretty hilarious and surprisingly touching, and it succeeds in being a respectful, truer version of guys doing the job than you usually get to see.