End of Watch opens with a title card that reads: “Once upon a time in South Central…”
But trust me, this is no fairy tale.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena play LAPD partners Taylor and Zavala, working the meanest streets of the hardest parts of Los Angeles.
The brutally violent gang turf wars provide the backdrop for the narrative conflict, but End of Watch is really about the brotherhood of the badge and the heartache of the sacrifice involved. The stakes are huge each and every day these men and women roll out.
The filmmaking style writer-director David Ayer uses matches the content beautifully.
The opening scene is shot through an internal squad car camera mount during a high speed chase, taking the viewer instantly into the world of the police. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanof takes over from there and his hand-held camera work is spot on, keeping us on the edge of our seats to the end.
The language is harsh, the violence is graphic, and some of the scenarios are disturbing – especially one involving human trafficking. But don’t let that get in your way from spending two hours with these law enforcement heroes.
But this film works mostly because of the chemistry between its two stars.
Gyllenhaal and Pena are both incredibly likable actors, and this picture plays to their strengths big time. We not only feel for their safety on the beat, but we laugh along with them as they argue and cackle over women, dating practices, culture clashes, family, and marriage.
Cops give up so much. They’re not all saints, but I’m thankful anyway.
“We stand watch together,” Gyllenhaal offers in his opening narration. “A thin blue line. Protecting the prey from the predators. The good from the bad. We are the police.”
Take a moment, thank a cop.