During a routine traffic stop, two young officers, Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena), confiscate a small cache of money and weapons from a notorious drug cartel operating in southern Los Angeles. Soon after, Officers Taylor and Zavala become marked men at the mercy of a vengeful gang of latinos.
Directed and written by David Ayer (Training Day, writer), End of Watch is anchored by impressive performances by leading men Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Gyllenhaal and Pena’s chemistry feels authentic, generating a bond rarely seen between actors, but one that is described by long-time partners on a force. Together, their moments seem sensitive, raw and improvised, like two good friends living lives full of uncertainties.
Presented as a “ride-along,” the camera jumps and jolts with the action and stabilizes in the right moments, providing viewers relief from the shaky camera. Though it’s not a preferable mode of filmmaking, for the instance of End of Watch, the camera’s instability generates unease and tension. Following intense moments of revelation or violence, viewers are reminded of the film’s artificiality through a series of lens flares or other devices to make the film self reflexive.
There is particular realism presented through many of the disturbing or shocking scenarios that anyone following daily events won’t find implausible. Considering the nature of the setting, End of Watch validates many of the issues plaguing suceptible areas like southern Los Angeles – an area notoriously famous for gang violence since the 1920s. Ayer offers a subtle comment on the shift from white to black and ultimately black to latino violence travelling through the veins of the City of Angels. And though crime rates have steadily fallen since the 1990s, current statistics indicate gang activity has not wavered – a statistic emphasizing the discomfort of this situations while creating empathy for our heroes, officers Taylor and Zavala.
End of Watch is a powerful crime drama made even stronger by Gyllenhaal and Pena’s nuanced performances and also stars America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Anna Kendrick (Twilight Saga), Frank Grillo (The Grey) and Cody Horn (Magic Mike). End of Watch is rate R for strong violence, disturbing images, and pervasive language.