The hell that Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) live in every day at their job as LAPD officers in South Central LA is a life that not everyone can handle to even look at for 109 minutes, the duration of one of the best police thrillers recently – End Of Watch. They do their job with a complete selflessness and abandon, saving gagged toddlers from their drugged parents or rescuing the same poor, neglected kids from a raging fire. They do it because they have to, and they don’t think twice.
Director David Ayer lived in South Central for while after he was kicked out from his home as a teenager. He knows what he is talking about in End Of Watch. The grim ugliness you expect to see is all there, but Ayer doesn’t depict stereotypes in stereotypical situations. He humanizes his Taylor and Zavala for the viewer; these two guys, full of stories and jokes, are two cops mostly hated by the people they are protecting. At times they seem like kids having fun, their dark blue lockers behind them, covered in stickers and memorabilia. At times they seem like hotheads who jump in on the scent of trouble. Deep down they are the unsung heroes doing deadly jobs, serving and protecting (without the notorious quotation marks) where others give up, give in, and become corrupt beyond recognition (and it is difficult to blame those others when the level of despair and deadly danger becomes apparent).
Ayer uses a shaky cam/lost footage approach in End Of Watch (the excuse is that Taylor is taking a movie class) to put the viewer into the center of the action. I am in love with the style, even though I am aware it is not for everyone. To me it helps to be stuck in the car with the two cops, chase after criminals with them, wipe the sweat off the forehead with them. It also reflects the shakiness of their situation, the uncertainty of their being – in danger all the time.
Besides the tightly knit plot, sparkling humor and unrelenting pace, End Of Watch is a movie bursting with enigmatic, colorful characters, who make this movie experience a real treat. The rest of the officers – Van Hauser (David Harbour), Sarge (Frank Grillo), and Orozco (America Ferrera) – are all strong characters played well by the cast, helping to paint a bigger picture of the force. Natalie Martinez (as Gabby, Zavala’s wife) and Anna Kendrick (as Janet, Taylor’s girlfriend) are great as the two better halves of the lead characters. They are especially good when the more experienced Gabby shares kinky sexual tips with the astonished Janet. Their femininity (they are both pregnant at some point) adds dimension to this predominantly masculine story and, while it foreshadows tragedy and loss, it also presupposes continuity and hope.