End of Watch – Film Review

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena and Anna Kendrick

Distributor: Studio Canal

End of Watch is probably the most stripped to basics buddy cop movie you’ll ever see. Two partners, as close as brothers, are a little too rebellious within the force. They get the job done, and they do it well, so they have a little leeway with the higher powers. They have incredibly beautiful and loyal partners, they swear and joke around a lot, and play practical jokes on the more uptight cops. They are rock stars of the jurisdiction world. However, despite the incredibly generic story, End of Watch deserves your attention because it is a blueprint for how to get the buddy cop movie right!

Officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) enjoy their job as patrolling officers in the ghetto of Los Angeles. They have been partners for years, getting through all kinds of scrapes together, both good and bad. When they uncover a plot that goes outside their jurisdiction (and falls under that of the pain-in-ass Feds), they feel the urge to investigate further. Unfortunately, this puts them on the hit list of some of the highest ranking L.A. gangsters.

It won’t win any prizes for story, but that doesn’t mean the script is bad. Far from it. What intrigues about End of Watch is its focus on the two cops’ friendship, which is placed in the foreground before shoot-outs and car chases. There is far more attention paid to the pair’s casual musings and insults than to criminal organizations. If they are called to a disturbance, the camera never cuts straight to the action. It stays with them as they discuss what might be happening, how it might affect them later, how hungry they are and when the last time they had sex was. The film is given an added sense of realism given that most of the footage comes from Taylor’s camera, as he records crime scenes for a film project.

Gyllenhaal and Pena are utterly believable as a pair of lifelong buddies. They are so casual and natural around each other, you could easily believe that they go out to have a few beers as soon as the camera stops rolling. It’s difficult to single out one above the other as this is a wholly symbiotic double act, each one complimenting the other in subtle ways. Taylor isn’t attached at the beginning of the film, but as Zavala talks about his family so much, we can see how he yearns for what his partner has. After some time, he meets Janet (Kendrick), whom he falls for. Kendrick is given a relatively small role, but she stands out by A) being perfectly cast as the admiring girlfriend, B) refusing to conform to an archetypal character and C) having the most gangsta’ taste in dance music at a wedding.

Zavala, meanwhile, allows Taylor to bring out another side of him. He is happy in his marriage, but he sees his relationship with his partner on the beat as a form of liberation from conformity. He can live by a different set of rules once in his uniform, and this can cause him to lash out emotionally from time to time. There is a barely perceptible hint of rage lying below the surface at all times, and occasionally it finds a rupture out of which to explode. On a related note, if the word ‘F*ck’ was a bullet, this film could have easily supplied Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire film history (which Jake Gyllenhaal probably would have watched the f*ck out of).

The story itself isn’t particularly important. There are many scenes that contribute very little, bar moments for the two to share and bond over. Crime scenes, office pranks and relative’s birthday parties, they all serve the one goal of making you care more and more for the main characters and their friendship. It’s not massively original, but what End of Watch lacks in twists and plot hooks, it makes up for in stellar performances, truly engaging spectacle and exactly the kind of ludicrous banter you’d expect from two guys who spend 6 days a week working together.

Score: 4/5

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