out of Five
Running time: 108
Gripping, impressively shot cop thriller that comes across as the nice guy version of The Shield, thanks to a strong script and a pair of terrific performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.
What's it all about?
Directed by David Ayer, End of Watch is set in present-day south central Los Angeles and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as L.A. cops and best friends Taylor and Zavala. The pair maintain a constant, jokey bravado that frequently annoys their colleagues, but they keep making impressive arrests, even if they do occasionally stumble into something big by accident.
However, after two of their more high-profile busts make their names public, they fall foul of a vicious Mexican cartel and soon there is a price on their heads. Meanwhile, in their private lives, Taylor finds romance with new girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick), while Zavala anxiously awaits the birth of his first child with his pregnant wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez).
Gyllenhaal and Pena are both terrific as the two leads, generating strong and believable chemistry with both each other and their respective partners; their constant, naturalistic and often very funny banter is hugely enjoyable. Kendrick is typically adorable as Janet and there's also strong support from Martinez, from Frank Grillo (as their boss) and from Cody Horn and America Ferrera (cast, rather brilliantly, against type) as their ass-kicking colleagues Davis and Orozco.
The film is impressively shot, using hand-held cameras (occasionally shot in-character using micro-cameras, as the cops wire themselves up for fairly spurious reasons), giving the action sequences a visceral immediacy that works well and gives the film a real energy. Similarly, Ayer maintains an impressive balance of tone throughout, allowing for sudden switches from jokey comedy to shocking violence and fast-paced thrills that have a real sense of danger.
Essentially this is like a nice guy version of The Shield, since, perhaps contrary to expectations, there's not a corrupt cop in sight; if anything, the film comes across as a tribute to the profession, as the various captions make clear. It also gives an enjoyably detailed feel for the job; there aren't too many cop films that remember to include the tedious paperwork element.
With likeable characters and a sharply written script, End of Watch is an enjoyable, superbly directed and brilliantly acted cop thriller that is by turns gripping, thrilling, moving and laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended.