In End of Watch, which should have been titled The Cops Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Officer Brian Taylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) chronicles each of his shifts at the Los Angeles Police Department with his partner, Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Pena).
Brian is filming his line of work for an elective film class he’s taking to count toward his studies in pre-law.
While performing a routine traffic stop, Brian and Mike confiscate money and a golden weapon from one of the members of a dangerous cartel, and the cartel decides to retaliate.
End of Watch was originally released September 21, 2012. However, it performed so well at the box office and won so much praise among critics that the filmmakers decided to reopen the film in nationwide release for audiences’ viewing pleasure and just in time for awards season.
Writer/director David Ayer crafted this movie as if it were its own police report. He takes his audience through scenes of police officer workdays and their private lives unfolding in short clips.
Together, the scenes weave the beginning to the end of what happens to two LAPD cops who angered the wrong criminals.
In Ayer’s script, these cops are not dirty. They’re not crooked. They are immature. But they commit selfless acts, are fair with everyone (including criminals), and the mistreatment of children is their Kryptonite. These are the kind of guys you probably wouldn’t hang out with, but you want them there for an emergency.
Ayer, who spent much of his teenage years in South Central LA, is known for writing scripts that are set in that area and revolve around the LAPD. The way that Brian and Mike interact with each other and their fellow officers is pretty true to form, down to the way that they curse and tease each other, then laugh about it.
Then there are the great quotes. Brian says things such as “I am fate with a badge and a gun.” Mike is the life-lessons advisor of this duo, telling Brian to really consider his decision of possibly marrying his girlfriend and asking him: “Can you live without her?” Brian’s answer to that question is evident in the next frame.
The storyline of End of Watch is great. However, there are some things to be desired. Ayer’s story has a beginning, middle, and somewhat of an end, but the meaning behind it all isn’t as visible as one would hope. The guess is that Ayer is just highlighting the buddy relationship that all cops have with each other and how they stick together, even if they can’t stand each other. The last scene of the film sort of hints at this being a buddy film, but doesn’t tie its own loose ends.
In the acting category, Gyllenhaal and Pena give stellar performances. It has been said that both Gyllenhaal and Pena did ride-alongs with real LAPD officers for months to prepare for their roles, and formed a tight friendship. That way, it’s authentic when they interact with one another.
They also make you look at police officers in a positive light: They have a job to do, which is stressful and puts their lives in danger, but they do it because someone has to protect and serve.
Gyllenhaal’s Brian, a former Marine, can’t seem to find the right woman and can’t seem to leave alone a hunch, which gets him and Mike into trouble at times. As a performance, Gyllenhaal does disappear into Brian and shows his growth from swinging bachelor to a taken man.
Pena, who was nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for the role, plays Mike as the emotional half of this duo. The best part of Pena’s performance is the way the affects of his job show on his face and foreshadow things to come. It’s scary when the person who’s sworn to protect you has a worried look on his face.
It’s not hard to see why End of Watch is on its second nationwide release. What’s hard is knowing that the story seems unfinished. Did Brian’s film make it to his film class? What’s the overall message of the film? Note to Ayer: A sequel is needed.
*Pictured above is Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as young Los Angeles police officers Taylor and Zavala.