From the writer of Training Day comes a gripping, action-packed cop drama starring Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. In their mission to abide by their oath to serve and protect, Officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Peña) have formed a powerful brotherhood to ensure they both go home at the end of watch. But nothing can prepare them for the violent backlash that happens after they pull over the members of a notorious drug cartel for a routine traffic stop. Seen from the point of view of the officers, gang members, surveillance cameras, dash cams and citizens caught in the line of fire, a 360° perspective creates a gritty, compassionate and intense portrait of the city’s darkest streets, and the brave men and women patrolling them.
David Ayer has staked a large claim as the preeminent teller of shady Los Angeles police stories, whether in scripts for others (Training Day, Dark Blue), or films he's directed himself (Harsh Times, Street Kings). While such a narrow field of view can often lead to repetition (or worse, self-parody), Ayer deserves a large amount of credit for finding new entry points with each project. End of Watch, Ayer's third film as director, introduces a few new wrinkles to the formula, most notably the use of found footage to viscerally convey the moments of crisis (and stretches of tedium) while on the beat. Beginning with an impressively messy chase scene, the film follows a few eventful days in the lives of two officers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) returning to active duty after a shooting. Any hopes for a routine patrol, however, quickly fade when the two cross the path of a murderous gang leader named Big Evil (Maurice Compte). Ayer, working in a loose, profane mode that favorably recalls the works of Joseph Wambaugh, does a commendable job at conveying the day-to-day insanity that is a cop's lot in life, with special emphasis on the impossibility of leaving the job at the office. While the handheld-camera approach gives the action scenes a definite queasy charge, the time between shootouts proves just as compelling, due to the convincing friendship between family man Peña and the fiercely single Gyllenhaal, and some terrific supporting turns from Anna Kendrick and The Grey's Frank Grillo. Ultimately, though, the film's best asset may be the filmmaker's decision to paint his protagonists as normal people dedicated to upholding the law, rather than being drawn to the fashionable dark side. For the first time in what seems like a long time, the cops are the good guys. --Andrew Wright