Director: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez
Running time: 119 minutes
Synopsis: Two LAPD officers in South Central’s toughest neighbourhood find themselves targeted by a drug cartel when they bust an extremely valuable shipment…
Until now, David Ayer was best known for blistering cop thriller TRAINING DAY. Ayer’s script plays out like the anti-buddy movie – an alternative LETHAL WEAPON in which Murtagh spikes Riggs with PCP and then tries to have him murdered. Now writing and directing, Ayer once again targets the formula and gives it both barrels, reassembling the pieces into END OF WATCH, one of the year’s most fascinating crime thrillers.
Despite its unique approach, make no mistake – this is a buddy cop movie. There are things however that we can safely say END OF WATCH isn’t. For instance, it isn’t a Jake Gyllenhaal movie. Whilst he’s on top form as Taylor, the hardened cop with a sensitive side, the film belongs equally to co-star Michael Peña, whose intensity, comic timing, and chemistry with Gyllenhaal is undeniable – Peña’s rise to stardom begins here.
END OF WATCH also isn’t a found-footage movie, despite initial appearances. Though much of the action is seen through the lens of police surveillance cameras or the small recorder Taylor carries with him, Ayer doesn’t let the format become a creative roadblock as many other directors have. He happily abandons the handheld camerawork when it isn’t needed, utilizing it only when it benefits the story, and to make use of the format’s most forgotten but greatest asset – jarring realism.
Perhaps most interesting in terms of what END OF WATCH is not, is that it veers significantly from the reliable structure of most cop thrillers. Rather that cranking out the trusty ‘event-consequence’ plotting, Ayer’s script is more like a ‘day in the life’, or in this case, a year. That isn’t to say the film is lacking events – barely five minutes goes by that someone isn’t stabbed in eye or gruesome humans remains discovered. It’s as brutal as they come, and though everything may feel disconnected, Ayer’s script brilliantly crescendos into a raw and tense climax.
What really drives END OF WATCH however is not the action or subversive take on the genre, but the core relationship at the centre of the story. Once again things are not as they appear to be – Taylor and Zavala begin the story as difficult and largely unlikable. They’re brash, cocky, and apparently revel in the violence their job demands. But Ayer pulls back the layers slowly, allowing Gyllenhaal and Peña to develop two very real characters – cocky for sure, but decent human beings hiding beneath the veneer. Their exchanges are both funny and touching, and it would take a heart of stone to not be moved by their relationship.
There may be many things that END OF WATCH isn’t, but there are also many that it is – tender and hard hitting, original yet familiar – all of which can be summarized as a sublime piece of filmmaking.
END OF WATCH arrives in UK cinemas 23rd November. Originally screened at the London Film Festival, you can read all our previous coverage here.