For the past 11 years, director David Ayer’s most revered big screen effort is still the one he himself didn’t actually direct. Training Day may have had Antoine Fuqua at the helm, but it was Ayer’s intense screenplay and his depiction of an untamed Los Angeles that helped the film gain critical acclaim and as a result, be a location the writer turned director has been keen to go back to. Following things up with Harsh Times and Street Kings (both of which he directed) neither quite reached the same standard as the Denzel Washington award winner. Now with End Of Watch, he’s finally got the closest he’s ever been – albeit via tried and somewhat tired storytelling methods.
The first thing that audiences might spot and sigh over is the viewpoint Ayer’s latest is seen through; the handheld camera. Yes the jerky, no longer quirky camera style that’s made its way from horror to sci-fi to superhero films may be poorly introduced to End Of Watch (Gyllenhaal’s character is ‘making a film project’), but it gives the cop drama a stroke of realism in the vein of well, Cops. It’s a risky move to make and one that pays by keeping us on a tight leash with our leading men and confined to the squad car that stores some of the films finest moments. Much like Alonso’s ‘office’ in Training Day, a good majority of End Of Watch is done rolling through the streets of L.A., giving us a chance to really get to know our heroic lawmen that make for a hugely appealing and watchable pair.
You really can’t have a cop drama without two well-chosen law enforcers leading the way and End Of Watch has turned up trumps with theirs. As always, Jake Gyllenhaal arrives with a performance that’s as entertaining and endearing as all those that came before it with Officer Brian Taylor, but the better half of this heroic duo sits firmly with Michael Pena. After the endless array of supporting roles that have kept him as either the comic relief or simple sidekick, here he really gets to shine. Bouncing off his partner effortlessly with words of wisdom and on the job-jokes, Pena’s performance as Mike Zavala; a family man devoted to the job and his brother-in-blue is a truly impressive turn from an actor who hasn’t done a job this good since Crash. The two are inseparable and whilst they aren’t necessarily the typical chalk and cheese partnership you’d expect with a policing pair, they’re on the same wavelength and the most entertaining parts of the film are when these two are sat back putting the world to rights. It’s when they get out the car to read them to the local lawbreakers that things go sideways.
As strong and believable as both Taylor and Zavala come across, the same can’t be said for the criminals they’re crossing paths with. Coincidentally filming their side of the law as Taylor is (are they in the same film class?), these Mexican gang bangers are all bullets and f-bombs, swearing at and slapping each other like idiots. I hate to keep comparing, but the few minutes Ethan Hawke has in a shower with the three gangbangers in Training Day holds ten times more tension than when these ne’er do wells roll up, pulling you out of the film and making the potential threat our heroes are dealing with less dangerous than they should be. Thankfully, Gyllenhaal and Pena stay on course enough to keep for an engaging watch.