David Ayer grew up in the volatile neighborhood of South Central L.A. and has mined his experiences in such films as Training Day andHarsh Times. He has a particular fascination with the L.A.P.D., but End of Watch, which he wrote and directed, isn’t simply more of the same. By casting two talented actors (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) who have an exceptional rapport with one another, he manages to humanize and literalize the day-to-day lives of cops who never know what they’re going to face when they set out on their rounds.
Ayer and his cinematographer, Roman Vasyanov, mount their camera in the hood of the police car, so we vicariously experience what it’s like for two partners to spend all day, every day, cooped up together. The only way to even out the extremes of their job, which can be routine one day and violent or disgusting the next, is to indulge in a non-stop conversation laced with teasing humor. This brand of black comedy may take some getting used to, but it feels honest.
We take in the absurdities, insults, threats, and backroom politics these career officers deal with on a regular basis, and see how they try to offset personal lives with their work, a precarious balancing act at best.
Gyllenhaal and Peña work together like a well-oiled machine, as if they really had spent months or years in each other’s company. Their dialogue feels raw and spontaneous. They are well supported by a strong cast including Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour, Frank Grillo, and America Ferrera.
End of Watch doesn’t offer any particular message or moral; this isn’t a metaphoric kind of movie. David Ayer has given us a straightforward, often visceral portrait of men at work in what may be the most difficult job on earth.