End of Watch (EOW) is the last thing a police officer writes in his logbook after noting the day’s policing activities. Then he goes home. Hopefully he goes home. If he doesn’t go home—that’s also called an “end of watch.”
So says Director David Ayer in the EOW press notes. Best known for his dirty-cop film Training Day, the very authentic End of Watch will have the Los Angeles Police Department breathing a collective sigh of relief that someone’s finally telling their story in a positive light. This well-rendered if brutal portrait is a welcome counterweight to the seemingly endless stream of Hollywood paeans to corrupt cop-life in the USA.
Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are partners. They love their job. South Central L.A. is easily the most dangerous location in America for the police, but they’re on the case with enthusiasm.
Their world shifts from hilarious practical jokes in the squad room, to heart-stopping, potentially deadly encounters with local gangs with enough firepower to equip a small army, and back to brotherly banter in the squad car in the blink of an eye.
Taylor and Zavala function like any well-practiced, experienced sports team that has also bonded on a personal level. They’re ready to die for each other.
When they search an SUV and narrowly avoid getting blasted by the driver’s 9 mm handgun, it’s reminiscent of the hair-trigger reflexes of a mongoose avoiding a cobra strike and then pinning the snake. It has the same ferocious yet casual confidence. They are metaphorical cop black belts.
One comes to appreciate the talent required for this dangerous job. Highly competent cops have restless Type A personalities. They’re energetic and aggressive normally, but with an ability to shift to a preternatural calm in the high-stress situations that typically cause hysteria in civilians. While they youthfully relish their roles as ghetto gunfighters, all of it is truly informed by a desire to do the right thing.
Officer Taylor carries a video camera everywhere, making his own homegrown version of the TV-show Cops. Much like the movie Chronicle, where the lead character chronicles everything with a hand-held cam, it’s really a sign of the times—an endless videotaping of the movie of one’s life that one is starring in.
This is not your father’s LAPD. These kids say “dude” constantly, play ear-splitting rap in the cruiser, and quip funny asides at the camera, like, “Being a cop is all about comfortable footwear.” They beat 100-degree heat by surreptitiously sticking their heads in open beverage coolers in neighborhood bodegas.
Director Ayer, who grew up in South Central, captures the atmosphere with lots of smoggy sunrises and sunsets. Anna Kendrick, as Taylor’s fiancée, is always a revelation. Peña and Gyllenhaal have highly enjoyable bickering chemistry. The rest of the cast, including TV’s Ugly Betty star, America Ferrera, are all highly effective in portraying LAPD culture.
The drama inherent in cop-corruption stories is low-hanging fruit. It’s easy and it sells, which is why Hollywood does so much of it. As Ayer points out, there’s also riveting tension in a situation where good cops have to do life-and-death things all day, then come home at their end of watch, fit into everyday society, and work hard to make their relationships normal.
This is a super-gritty, ultra-violent, hyper expletive-ridden, and often very funny film. See it only if you have a stomach strong enough to deal with the very disturbing scenes involving gangland violence, hard drugs, and human trafficking. If nothing else, End of Watch is a first-rate lesson in law-enforcement appreciation.
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