If you saw the movie’s trailer, you might expect a full-action cop movie. But actually, it isn’t. End of Watch centers on two policemen patrolling around South Los Angeles. Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala have been partners for years and when they say they would take a bullet for one another, they mean it. The movie opens with a car chase, shown from the POV of a camera attached to their car, with Taylor’s narrating. After they succeed in stopping the car, we can see them being congratulated for their actions. One day these two buddies are doing their job as usual, busting some ass and saving kids from a burning house, when they come across some big shit done by a big Mexican drug cartel. One thing leads to another, in the end they find themselves hunted by members of the cartel, fierce and equipped with AK-47s.
In the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to the main characters by Taylor himself. He’s doing an art project in which he’s going to record his daily activities, YouTube-style. After that, we can see him carrying a camera around and he also clips micro cameras on his and his partner’s shirts. So throughout the movie, the POV switches back and forth between a first-person’s and the usual third person’s. I personally find this whole doc-style, first-person POV to be overdone. It feels passé, it’s hard to pull off and I don’t think this one is a success. Moreover, with the random back-and-forth switch, it’s damn distracting. Josh Trank did a rather good job with it in Chronicle but even that was still distracting to me. I can never help wondering ‘where is the camera now’ whenever I watch these found-footage styled movies. And the effort to keep the first-person POV realness prompts the filmmaker to have a lot of different people carrying cameras all the time, which just adds to the distraction. How could it not, when you see a member of a gang recording while a shoot-out is being planned and about to be put into motion. Or a small group of another gang members smoking cigarettes and talking in front of their houses in the night, just doing casual shit, and then one of them records everything on a camcorder. It doesn’t make sense, gimmicky and distracting.
The problematic camera POV aside, the chemistry between the two main characters is undeniable. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Taylor, who comes off quite douchey at first but real nevertheless. His partner, Zavala, is played by the underrated Michael Peña. Their affection and conversations seem to flow effortlessly that we believe their bond instantly since the beginning. The movie shows them having casual conversations, from discussing their girls, colleagues to the more complicated aspects of their jobs. At first, because David Ayer is the guy who wrote the celebrated Training Day, I keep expecting the main characters to have somewhat of a twist. They might be corrupt officers, or something. But no, actually these guys are really the good guys who take their job seriously. Even though at the beginning we can see them veering off the law a little bit when Zavala gets into a fist fight with a street delinquent who provokes him with racist remarks, overall these guys do try to save the day. And this desire to uphold justice, mixed with a little bit of nosiness, is what gets them into trouble in the end.
The supporting characters are mostly done well, ranging from the boys’ sergeant (Frank Grillo from The Grey and Warrior), colleagues, to women. Zavala is happily married to his high-school girlfriend and first love, Gabby while Taylor has a relationship with a cute yet brainy Janet, played by the loveable Anna Kendrick. These women show some interesting sides of the boys and help us know them more. Natalie Martinez, who plays Gabby, is beautiful and instantly likable. The gangster dudes and dudettes are.. well, tattooed and stuff. Nothing you’ve never seen before and sometimes I wonder if the portrayals of these characters are exaggerated, but I guess not. Out of all the thugs, Tre (played by activist and filmmaker Cle Shaheed Sloan) provides some of the most interesting scenes and dialogues.
The movie takes it time leisurely, and would sometimes feel rather slow and makes you wonder if anything is going to happen. But I guess that’s what sets it apart from other similar movies, it really takes us into the lives of these two characters. Not just the action part, but also everything else. Probably because the movie feels slow most of the time, when the action sequences appear, they are really intense. And because of the slow build-up the audience becomes attached enough to Taylor and Zavala that the emotional ending of the movie succeeds in reaching us.