Wow! Even considering the thousand-and-some cop flicks that have come before, David Ayer's End of Watch, is smart, fresh, and original. I was more than a little surprised to find myself held rapt from the moment I sat down at the late showing on Saturday night. (We were late to the theater and missed the opening 5 minutes or so.)
End of Watch is the story of two LAPD street cops, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhall) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) who bump into a lethal Mexican drug cartel while patrolling the streets of one of Los Angeles' toughest barrios. In the face of lethal threats, terrifying firepower and omens of disaster, they perform their duty. The film conveys a pervasive dread, punctuated by violence.
Much of the film's success has to do with the acting. How many cop movies have examined the fraternity existing between patrol car partners? Many. But Gyllenhall and Peña make it fresh through the strength of their performances. Their dialog is natural and sharp. They offer a hopeful portrayal of two young men who bridge cultural and moral differences to create a partnership of love, deep trust, and respect. Tight performances, too, from the entire supporting cast.
Camera perspective throughout the film is jostling, and frantic, as if events are captured by cell phones, surveillance cameras, video-cams. I've seen this technique used successfully and not-so-successfully, but in End of Watch it works.
I attribute most of the film's success to the writing and direction of Ayer. End of the Watch is my introduction to his work, but I'm sold. The script is gritty and compelling. Ayer's employs a convincing lexicon. The dialog keeps you on your toes. There aren't many empty lines.
There are few things as delightful as going to see a film and have it exceed your expectations. End of Watch succeeded on that score, let me tell you. I'm tempted to go again just to take in those first five minutes I missed. The film warrants a second viewing. It's that good.