Cop drama rings true
Gyllenhaal plays good-natured LAPD officer Brian Taylor, whose everpresent video camera sets up the premise that we’re viewing a found-footage film, in End of Watch. Brian drags his half-dressed squad-car partner Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) into the frame in the locker room and the way Mike elbows his way back out again sets the tone for the pair’s foulmouthed macho bickering. They’re a good cop-good cop team on the hot, hard streets of South Central. The film has an appealing way of undercutting police thriller cliches. Mike would usually be a supporting player, with Brian taking the lead. Here, the Mexican-American isn’t the sidekick. He’s savvier, married, with a kid on the way, underlining his status as a mature figure with responsibilities. Neither guy is the other’s comic relief. They’re both cut-ups when the mood is light and heart-attack serious otherwise. Both are good at their work. Both feel a tension between their home life and the job. Anna Kendrick plays Brian’s supportive but concerned girlfriend; Natalie Martinez is Mike’s feisty pregnant wife, and the domestic details ring true. Pena submerges himself seamlessly into his tough, soulful, funny role, while Gyllenhaal looks less like he’s playing a cop and more like he might be one. When the action shifts into overdrive as a Mexican cartel targets the partners, we’re deeply invested, making the vivid violence more than empty thrills. While Roman Vasyanov’s turbulent cinematography often captures vantage points no carry-along camera could record, the virtuoso handheld chase scenes, shootings and car wrecks are electric with urgency. Ferociously gritty and unsentimentally tough, End of Watch is a running battle between the idealism of its urban peacekeepers and fatalism about the ability of a small blue militia to pacify war-zone Los Angeles. The actors’ outstanding work in spasms of ferocity and moments of gentleness makes the film a victory of craft over cliches.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick star in the gritty