*** (out of four)
The cop movie has been done. And done and done. Particularly by David Ayer, who wrote “Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Harsh Times,” along with directing “Street Kings.”
Somehow the filmmaker’s not out of material. Directing his own script for the second time (after “Harsh Times”), Ayer gives “End of Watch” a rather narrow focus. South Central L.A. officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Chicago native Michael Pena) patrol the streets. That’s about it. Sure, Zavala anticipates his first child with his wife (Natalie Martinez), and Taylor develops a relationship with Janet (the always-appealing Anna Kendrick).
“End of Watch” doesn’t consider how the job influences time off-the-clock, however. This tense action-drama worries primarily about the work and its risks, and the partnership that helps the men get through the day. Gyllenhaal and Pena’s rapport, which includes stereotypical but amusing riffs on white and Mexican culture, convinces that these two would do anything and everything for each other.
A superior tells Taylor and Zavala that they’ve tugged the tail of a snake by butting heads with a drug cartel that wouldn’t bat an eye about killing a cop. The film refreshingly resists adhering to an episodic encounter with a specific group, though. We’re there with the officers whether they deal with people relevant to the big threat or not, and there’s no conspiracy afoot. It’s just two men protecting themselves and each other, and Ayer occasionally depicts the tops of corporate office buildings as if to suggest, “These aren’t the people involved in what’s happening out there. Let’s look at the ones on the ground who work and brave danger and matter.”
“End of Watch” doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It does entertain throughout, from the officers’ funny banter to Janet and Taylor doing Cameron’s “Hey Ma” to the shots taken solely from the officers’ points of view. We see only what the characters see in these scenes, getting a glimpse of how it feels to be scared in those moments they don’t know what’s around the corner or in the house.
In theory, being alive means being near death at all times. “End of Watch” pays true, unenhanced honor to some of the people who stare down death.
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