This Jake Gyllenhaal/Michael Pena cop thriller is surprisingly well put-together....
Universal / 109 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: January 22, 2013
Playing out almost as a found-footage cop flick, End of Watch wants to give its audience the impression that they're out on patrol with the men in blue at the center of its tale. Writer/director David Ayer has little interest in us ogling or looking up to Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Pena): no, he'd rather simply throw us into the snake pit along with them.
We're alerted early on that both Taylor and Zavala are wearing small clip-cameras on their name tags - ostensibly for a film-class project Taylor has been assigned - so as sleek and finessed as this Blu-ray edition may be, End of Watch looks like it was captured as a YouTube video: it's so 'real' that not even Hollywood cinematography can be invited to its events at hand. And for the most part, this style works like gangbusters - it's sometimes painfully precocious, but there are moments in the film that wonderfully broadcast this immediacy.
The major arc at the center of End of Watch involves a human trafficking plot that Taylor and Zavala uncover by accident as they go about their daily rounds. ICE comes in and tells them to cool it and go back to their routine, but Taylor wants to know more about it - he's mortified of it, but wants to know who else might be involved. Our boys have wives, children, fiancees - their personal lives play out, but this trafficking nightmare ends up gaining lethal importance over their story.
End of Watch isn't a particularly well-oiled movie - its style allows the film to have a staggered, shaky construction all the way from character development to editing style - but as cursory as it often feels, there's nevertheless an implicit draw to the thing. Pena and Gyllenhaal have a time-worn camaraderie together, and as they're thrust into various crime-fighting nightmares, we venture in alongside them with what's-behind-that-corner? suspense in every frame. Ayer defaults to caricature too often for his own good - his presentation of a Latina thug gang boss, for example, is way off - but End of Watch is compulsively watchable entertainment: it's exciting, raw, and often shocking.