As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
Jake Gyllenhaal is one of Corner of Film’s most underrated actors – despite a consistent output of excellent performances, he’s never won an Oscar – and End of Watch further proves his talent. David Ayer’s cop drama follows Officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) of the LAPD as they patrol the streets of south-central Los Angeles.
Shot in the style of found footage (with vaguely contrived story reasons to facilitate it), End of Watch begins as little more than its gimmick: two best friends out doing police work. However, the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña soon establishes End of Watch as something much more: it’s a deep exploration of its two central characters, the work they do, and the way it influences their personal lives and choices.
End of Watch‘s story is thoroughly engaging. Thanks to the performances of its cast, its characters feel three-dimensional enough to carry it through its weaker establishing scenes until the film’s story proper begins. From there, End of Watch is able to subtly and persistently build tension that’s paid off excellently in an unforgettable climax.
Though End of Watch is story is decidedly straightforward, its relentless thrust towards its conclusion is paced perfectly. Though its climax is undeniably dramatic, it’s something that End of Watch earns through its diligently told story, cementing it as a brilliantly realized action-drama.
End of Watch isn’t without its weaker points though. Its glossing-over of some of the incredibly complex social issues that it depicts is genuinely problematic. The LAPD are shown to be effectively above the law, and this isn’t something that End of Watch takes any real issue with. Instead, Gyllenhaal and Peña’s characters are shown to be savior-types regardless of their reckless (and legally/ethically questionable) behavior, while the film’s non-police characters of color are effectively demonized.
This is perhaps the only glaring issue with the film, and it’s perhaps less prevalent than it might have been, as End of Watch‘s story is primarily focused on the relationship between Taylor, Zavala, and the LAPD. Though this cements End of Watch as a deeply interesting story with genuine emotional stakes, its lack of social conscience shines through, making it clear just how hollow the film is in places.
Overall, End of Watch is an impressive film. Its found-footage format supports the building of tension, with tighter angles and a more personal connection to the film’s characters. This, combined with the sheer realistic plausibility of its story, makes it well worth watching (or re-watching) despite its minor shortcomings.
Summary: End of Watch is a deeply engaging and enjoyable film with a handful of minor tonal issues. Despite these, it’s an interesting and thoroughly entertaining watch.
Highlights: Taylor and Zavala accidentally stumbling onto major crime scenes is captured excellently, with both their own excitement played off against the building tension.