Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, America Ferrera
Some jobs carry more risk than others and not many physically bear more than a police officer. This risk comes in the form of who you may confront and the amount of individual power given in order to keep the peace. End of Watch tries to take the audience behind the scenes of what it looks like to follow a specific pair of officers on their daily routines and the most extreme moments. Through this storytelling method, it fails to adhere to its own rules but it shows a level of humanity and connection between two men amidst the hazards of their careers.
Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) and Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) serve the Los Angeles community as police officers. As part of a college project for his filmmaking class, Brian decides to film his experience as an officer of the law to show the more routine aspects and the dangerous ones. This includes a run-in with a very dangerous gang with connections to a cartel.
The position of being a police officer comes with no envy on my part as the pressure to keep the peace comes with a significant level of scrutiny because of the actions of racists. While systemic issues certainly exist, End of Watch focuses on two individuals within a police force and simply catalogs everything they go through. It certainly details their work and the degree of difficulty that comes with it, but it also shows these men for who they are beyond the badge in a meaningful way.
Writer/director David Ayer sought to make this a very grounded and gritty portrayal of the life of an officer and chose to do so by utilizing found footage. With Brian filming everything, it creates constraints to what can be shown in an effort to make it feel real. This style of filmmaking certainly has its drawbacks but when done well, it can be a mesmerizing experience. The challenge comes from showing the perspective of anyone else other than the main characters in the story. If the story gets captured through Brian’s camera, then how do we see what the antagonists do in order to become the villains? End of Watch does not care to answer the question in a creative way and instead decides to blatantly move away from the found footage style when convenient to push the narrative forward. It feels like a direct betrayal and almost makes you wonder about the whole point of using the found footage method in the first place just for it to be dropped later on.
However, the moments captured with the found footage shots put together two men who have developed such a great rapport together. The foundation of their relationship allowed for chiding between them along with embracing the dangers of their jobs. Sure, we get the big moments where they need to risk their lives, but we also get to sit with them as they consider the risks they take each day when they step outside and put on their badges. Those human moments allow for what will occur later to hit even harder seeing as we learn about the ambitions and dreams of these men outside of just being police officers.
Success in this film rides and dies with the chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, and they certainly do not disappoint with keeping us completely engaged when the camera does nothing but focus on them. With Gyllenhaal racking up plenty of acclaim for previous roles, this feels like one of the first times where Peña got something to fully work with with the character of Zavala. With this opportunity, he certainly did not miss as he steps right up with Gyllenhaal to carry the light-hearted moments along with those full of dread, which appear later in the film.
Serving as its own unique experience of capturing the daily rituals of an officer, and a strong showcase for its two leads, End of Watch succeeds in its endeavors. It carries so much humanity with the authenticity of its presentation even if it wants to have its cake and eat it too at times. A buddy cop story that does not get seen on many occasions, which allows Michael Peña to flex his wings, which is always appreciated.