September 9, 2012
End of Watch World Premiere Reviews
By now David Ayer knows this beat. He's patrolled cop fiction – at a clip (Training Day – 2001) or a plod (Street Kings – 2008) – for most of his career. End of Watch, another sun-blanched sweep through the hood with the writer/director's handsome, honest incarnation of the LAPD – is his best work yet: an all-out sprint around a very familiar block.
Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) patrol south central LA. They're cool cops – Oakley-sporting, born-with-the-badge police – respectful of the job, but not in thrall of it. Long hours in the cruiser, bickering and bantering, have formed a deep friendship. They've even, by prioritising the rule of the street over the book of law, earned the respect of some of the city's gangs. In one extraordinary scene, scrappy, stocky Zavala drops his gun and bare knuckle boxes a suspect into submission while Taylor looks on and laughs. This, according to Zavala's beaten opponent, is the mark of "real police".
Life becomes more than routine when a traffic stop leads to the discovery of weapons and drug money linked to a Mexican cartel, and Taylor gets ideas above his payroll. He starts digging into gangster business, earning himself and Zavala a spot on their hit list. From there a policeman's life is rarely dull, with each house call paying out mountains of blinged-out munitions (including a gold jewel-encrusted assault rifle – "Liberace's AK") and a convenient lead to the next clue-crammed crime scene. There's little let-up, even when Zavala gets shot at. "Are you OK partner?" bellows Taylor. He is, he's fine – he doesn't need to drop in on the department's counsellor. There's no time anyway, because there's a lock-up full of trafficked immigrants to liberate on the next call.
It should seem ludicrous, this top-heavy blend of action and drama, but Ayer whips us along, outpacing implausibility at every turn. It helps that Gyllenhaal and Peña are immediately likable as introspective Taylor and his bullish sidekick. Ayer's dialogue bolsters the quieter moments – a career-born hybrid of police code and street slang that's perfect for two regular cops shooting the breeze. On the sidelines stand Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez as Taylor's scientist girlfriend and Zavala's pregnant wife, but they're LAPD WAGs – on hand only to contextualise how strongly these family guys feel for each other.
Ayer shoots in zippy style, switching between an in-car recorder reminiscent of pop cop TV, mini cameras attached to the actors' lapels and – somewhat improbably – a camcorder that Gyllenhaal's character has snuck past his superiors. There's a tangle in the narrative here: are we watching found footage or a glossy actioner? Ayer seems happy to settle for a bit of both. Taylor's camera is always on, always steady at the crucial moment – even in the fiercest of street fights.
You could fill the charge sheet with such plausibility issues, yet End of Watch is a hard one to take down. The director has talked about the film as a thought-piece – a comment on inner-city communities forced to police violence with violence, but it's not to be taken that seriously. Switch on the siren, put the pedal to the floor. Revel in the pace and passion of a film-maker policing a field that is now unquestionably his.
From The Guardian by Henry Barnes