Those who favour the ‘cops on camera’ TV shows can expect much the same style of ‘caught of camera’ thrills and spills from Harsh Times and Training Day director David Ayers’ gritty and affecting End Of Watch. Ironically, as well as hooking you in from the start and sparking curiosity as to where the story is going, the mockumentary-style, ‘found’ footage is also an Achilles Heel of the film from the offset: It becomes rather confusing as to exactly whose point of view we’re watching, although the cop banter and games from its leads, street-smart cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), are supposed to make that apparent.
We follow the two officers on their patrol through various rough South Central LA neighbourhoods, trying to keep some form of law and order. We watch as they spend work and play time together, including all the teasing and tomfoolery that goes on both inside the patrol car and out. However, after confiscating money and firearms from a notorious cartel during a routine traffic stop, both officers are placed on a hit list.
The main strength of End Of Watch is the key central relationship between two cops – one of Irish decent, the other Spanish – that is allowed to develop and solidify, once the initial bilious caught-on-camera footage is played out. Coupled with some truly outstanding and memorable performances from Gyllenhaal and Peña who really get under the skin of their characters, you start to get to know and second-guess their actions before they happen – crucial for the full impact of the finale to work.
The script is full of starkly poignant and laugh-out-loud moments of irony and frank observation that almost feel completely non-scripted and improvised at times, giving the whole affair an even greater realism than merely the cop-camera footage alone could hope to do. As with this genre, such a film is always going to have elements of déjà vu theatrics, but the relationship keeps it fresh and centred, so that it becomes more character-driven than anything else and a highly rewarding watch.
By Lisa Giles-Kedie