David Ayers’ End of Watch (2012) gives viewers an intimate look at life in the modern day police force with Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) as they work the streets of South Central LA. What makes this film unique is that Taylor is making a video journal for a college course while on the job, but instead of only using the live recording point of view in random sequences, the entire film is shot in that fashion, bringing an ‘on the spot’ aesthetic to every scene. While this method might distract from film storytelling in many circumstances, here it’s utilized similar to the way the COPS TV show is presented where we are watching things unfold as the police officers do. The immediacy of the visual style also acts as a way to heighten the tension and suspense and that keeps us riveted throughout the running time.
As the two best friends ride along in their cruiser they behave in a realistic manner, not in an overly dramatic style we get in a lot of standard Hollywood police films. They discuss their personal lives, argue about trivial things and joke with other officers, never taking their roles as cops too seriously. Where the film really excels is the manner in which it portrays how everyday banter is shattered by moments of adrenaline charged thrills such as the two rescuing some children from a fire or pulling over a truck where the driver immediately pulls a gun on them. There is also raw jolts of sheer terror as we see the graphic result of a psychotic criminal’s attack on two of their fellow officers. In one of the most shocking sequences, Taylor and Z discover an extremely gruesome scene in a home that is suspected of ties to a drug cartel. While danger could be around any corner (and often is), their biggest threat comes not from black gangs (who used to be the most prominent in the area) but from a local Latino crew led by “Big Evil” (Maurice Compte) an imposing thug who Taylor and Z confront at a party. Big Evil’s clearly a nut but his second in charge “La La” (Yahira “Flakiss” Garcia) shares his zeal for crazy, no holds barred violent behavior. This girl is one of the most chilling characters in the whole film. The vindictive gang members decide to seek revenge on the unsuspecting police officers after they’re openly dissed in front of their homies.
David Ayer who wrote the screenplays for Training Day (2001) and Dark Blue (2002) and previously directed the films Harsh Times (2006) and Street Kings (2008) does an amazing job of finding the real voice of the modern police officer with this adventure. Thankfully there is no good cop/bad cop subplot here either which is territory we’ve seen covered in many movies over the years from Colors (1986) through to Ayers’ own work. At their core Taylor and Z are just good hearted guys trying to do the best they can while evading the deadly pitfalls that are waiting for them as they patrol the urban field of battle.
- Writer-director David Ayer wrote End of Watch in six days.
- After Jake Gyllenhaal received the script, he read it in one hour and immediately contacted Ayer.
- Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña underwent five months of training for their roles as officers of the Newton Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The training included 12-hour ride-alongs with multiple Greater Los Angeles Area law enforcement agencies up to three times a week.
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