At the heart of End of Watch is an unabashed tribute to rank-and-file street police officers, which is a worthwhile endeavor.
These are the types of cops who literally put their lives on the line almost every day, dealing with violent elements and criminal behavior in some of the worst neighborhoods in cities around the country.
That’s where this gritty and well-acted thriller from director David Ayer (Street Kings) is at its most conflicted, portraying the day-to-day routines of these cops — from the lighthearted banter in the car to a showdown with a dangerous street gang — in a way that feels authentic without turning melodramatic.
In the film, Mike (Michael Pena) is an LAPD officer and family man who takes on some of the city’s toughest street crime with his loyal partner, Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal). The two aren’t afraid of danger, but confront their most difficult assignment when a routine traffic stop leads to the seizure of drug money from a ruthless cartel that seeks revenge.
Ayer and his actors obviously did plenty of research for this behind-the-scenes glimpse, which uses documentary-style visuals such as fictionalized footage from in-car police cameras and other found footage.
Generally the best scenes in the film involve Brian and Mike in their car, keeping the mood light by cracking jokes and talking about their family lives. It shows a bond and camaraderie that is no doubt a necessity in such a profession. Gyllenhaal and Pena are each convincing as action heroes and in those quieter, character-driven moments.
Some of the intense, ultraviolent vignettes on the rough streets of Los Angeles are more compelling than others, but by not having a consistent narrative thread, the film builds only intermittent suspense. As it moves toward inevitable tragedy, the story carries a bleak outlook on crime in society.
It seems like the scenario resulting from almost every dispatch escalates to the point of a life-and-death struggle. Such exaggerations make for a handful of exciting action sequences, but the contrived structure merely resembles a glorified episode of “COPS.”
However, End of Watch can’t be easily dismissed, as it makes a sincere effort to generate audience appreciation for cops and other first responders who protect our streets and families every day.
Rated R, 109 minutes.