The modern action cop drama has a seat right next to horror and westerns in Hollywood’s shelf of everlasting genres lacking originality. Films about the men in blue protecting the mean streets is a tried and tired story that fails possess the smarts of The French Connection or the honest will of Serpico, but screenwriter David Ayer may have cracked the formula to a successful modern cop story. The writer/director, who penned Training Day, delivers the best film of his career with End of Watch, a memorable and gut-wrenching story of two LAPD cops in South Central.
The “found footage” filming technique is as big a fad as 3D at the moment, but few have stood the test of time. End of Watch may very well be one of those critics look back on and say it is one that was done right. It is not only a difficult film to watch, but it’s tough to take in because of Ayer’s devotion to his characters. Jake Gyllenhaal is his usual talented self as officer Brian Taylor and Michael Peña gives the best performance of his career as officer Mike Zavala. The two hotshot cops patrol a gang infested South Central with success and stumble upon several cases connected to a Mexican drug cartel. While the action is graphic and suspenseful, the best moments of the film are away from the streets and in the police car. The dialogue is fresh, funny and honest, creating a meaningful, brotherly relationship between Gyllenhaal and Peña’s characters. When the intrepid police officers respond to a dangerous call, your heart does not beat rapidly because of the situation. You genuinely feel the fear that Taylor and Zavala hide throughout the film, and that’s a credit to Ayer’s writing. The story is far from award-worthy, but the build-up of the characters and climax certainly is worth recognizing.
End of Watch is fresh, welcome entry to an already long list of cop dramas thanks to electric performances from Gyllenhaal and Peña and a good script from Ayers. Rarely does a film evoke emotion while providing laughs and delivering plenty of action, making End of Watch a surprise hit this year.