If there’s one beat director David Ayer has down pat it’s that of the seedy underside patrolled by the LAPD. End of Watch, starring a buff Jake Gyllenhaal as officer Brian Taylor and Michael Peña as cheeky officer Mike Zavala, is Ayer’s second on both on scripting and directorial duties, after the much slower-paced Harsh Times starring Christian Bale in 2005.
End of Watch’s lineage is much closer to his stomping script for the Antoine Fuqua-helmed mammoth hit Training Day, and is a far more thrilling ride for it.
In the age-old buddy cop flick format, the rapport between Gyllenhaal and Peña is electric, as we follow them intimately thanks to the slightly unlikely plot quirk that the former happens to be filming their every move by handheld camera. Even under fire.
What starts with good humoured hijinks and a pumping soundtrack soon descends into mayhem, as the good cops with a hard edge cruise around the sun-drenched town dropping in on an endless array of misdemeanours that inexorably draws them into an almighty shitfight with a Mexican drug cartel.
While the script doesn’t devote a great deal of time to any of the peripheral characters, whether they be drug lords, other officers or their family, the glimpses we do get are played to the hilt by a strong cast
including David Harbour as the grumpy officer Van Hauser, Frank Grillo as their tough but haunted Sarge and Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera as the spunky, non-nonsense cop Orozco.
Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez deliver the good wives standing by the sideline shtick with amiable aplomb, and they all add up to give this high-octane, all-out gunfight a hint of a richer tapestry that plays into the strength of the central bond.
Their banter offers up pitch perfect dialogue, reminding us just how much Ayer nails this genre, toning down the slightly loopier plot twists.
When you mess with the drug lords, it never ends well, and from comic moments, like discovering a gold-plated, big-ass gun dubbed “Liberace’s AK” or one unfortunate cop’s equal parts horrifying and hilarious injury, it soon gets so brutal you’ll be gripping your chest, gasping for air, like all good thrill rides should leave you.
Stephen A Russell