Penned and directed by the hand of Training Day writer, David Ayer, End of Watch doesn’t stray too far and remains focused on the lives of Los Angeles Police Division officers. End of Watch documents the activities that lead to Officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña ) becoming the target of America’s most dangerous drug cartel.
The real strength of End of Watch is two effortlessly brilliant central performances from Gyllenhaal and Peña. Gyllenhaal has always had the ability to portray emotions in the simplest facial expression and this quality makes the characters he portrays so endearing to an audience. Pena turns in yet another on note performance and this will no doubt see his profile deservedly continue to rise. Together they portray a believable bond, not only in the sense of a professional partnership, but a genuine friendship. The result is an on screen chemistry that feels natural, and in keeping with the ‘real footage’ feel Ayer has sought to capture.
The real stumbling block of End of Watch is Ayer’s choice of direction. Ayer juxtaposes found footage of a filmmaking project by Officer Taylor, with a more traditional form of filmmaking, and as a result, End of Watch feels, quite frankly, like a little bit of a mess. By employing this mix and match of film styles, Ayers weakens the plot, reducing it to mere bones and while strong performances from Gyllenhaal and Pena detract from this feeling at times, they are not enough in themselves to compensate for the choices Ayer made.
End of Watch very much feels like a tale of two halves, the first being the camaraderie shared between Taylor and Zavala, the latter the drama that unfolds as the two become further embroiled in the activities of the cartel. The result is an audience feeling as though they are being put through the ringer, at one moment chuckling at a quip, or revelling in some form of sentimentality, to being on the edge of your seat. It feels as though, right up until the very end of the film, Ayer is not quite sure whether he wants to create a sentimental, empathetic film, or something of real grit.
I note from the immense plaudits that End of Watch has garnered that I am perhaps alone in this feeling, but Ayer’s choice of direction distracts from the heart of the film to the point that I could not even identify what the actual heart was.
Direction issues aside, End of Watch boasts incredible performances from two of the best actors currently working, and for that reason alone is well worth a watch.
Vicki has awarded End of Watch three Torches of Truth.