“Drug cartels are operating here,” says a federal agent to LA cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) at the site of a horrific crime. “You’re tugging on the tail of a snake. It’s going to turn around and bite you.” Taylor and Zavala are partners, assigned to the dangerous South Central beat in Los Angeles, home of Mr. Big Evil (Maurice Compte) and other drug dealers, into whose old neighborhood vicious Mexican drug cartels are moving, seeking to take over the drug and human trafficking trade. That’s the setup for this excellent, harrowing cop drama.
Did I care about Taylor and Zavala? Yes. Do I recommend this violent, R-language cop drama? Yes. Will you see it? That’s up to you.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are altogether convincing as LA cop partners Taylor and Zavala. In their squad car, they talk about their sex lives, marriage, ethnicity, and what they most want from life with such astonishing ease, spontaneity and humor that when Gyllenhaal says that (now) clichéd line, “I love you, man,” and Pena says, “If anything happened to you, I’d take care of your kids and Janet,” we believe them. It’s a buddy movie, but they’re not jokesters like “Lethal Weapon” cops. It’s serious and deeper here. Natalie Martinez and Anna Kendrick are also excellent as Gabby and Janet, Zavala and Taylor’s wives who, like their husbands, are best friends.
Others in the cast include David Harbour, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera and Jaime FitzSimons as LAPD officers. Among the bad guys are Maurice Compte, Leequwid “Devil” Wilkens, James “Pistol” McNeal, Alvin Norman and Richard Cabral.
“End of Watch” is compelling, gritty cop action, tightly focused on two officers’ trust and friendship. Writer/director David Ayer uses a semi-documentary style to tell his edgy story which covers just four months, spring-summer 2011. Jake Gyllenhall’s Brian, an ex-marine, is making a video of his work for a university film class, so we see his footage and watch him filming. Other characters – Janet and the Mexican cartel soldiers – document their lives, too, with cameras and phones. It’s a clever, contemporary conceit, a comment on ubiquitous smart phones recording everything – or so it seems. It’s Ayer’s comment on filmmaking – reminding us that we’re watching a movie.
At the center of the film, however, are two characters who represent street cops. Narrating his class video, Taylor says, “We stand together, the thin blue line, protecting the public from the predators. We are the police.”
R-rated for strong violence, disturbing images, pervasive language, sex, and drugs, it’s a riveting, expertly filmed and edited smart adult drama.
Excellent “End of Watch,”
Buddy flick, but deeper,
R-rated cop drama –
I am my brother’s keeper.