Authentic “End of Watch” engages

File photo.
File photo.

Throughout film and TV history, police officers have arguably been the most-depicted onscreen profession. For the most part, cops in films are often portrayed as either cartoonish stereotypes. Films that circumvent this formula, such as “The Departed” and “Training Day,” succeed because they convey authenticity. The newest cop thriller to feel authentic is “End of Watch.”  Thanks to its compelling style and performances, “End of Watch” is one of the best films of the year.

In “End of Watch,” Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, two young LAPD beat cops who are also best friends.  As Taylor and Zavala go through the daily horrors of the job, they grow off-duty as Taylor finds his first serious love (Anna Kendrick) and Zavala begins a family.  But when two cops find a sizable amount of money and firearms at a routine traffic stop, their lives become threatened by a violent drug cartel.

“End of Watch” succeeds as a compelling and engaging thriller for a number of reasons.  Directed by “Training Day” writer David Ayer, “End of Watch” creates what is perhaps the most authentic look at the everyday lives of cops ever put on film. Ayer achieves this through his bold choice of shooting the film in a hand-held, documentary-style. Throughout the film, characters are seen filming the events with their cameras, whether its Taylor making a video for his film class or a cartel member filming their plans. The hand-held cinematography gives the film a remarkably claustrophobic feel, allowing for the viewer to feel like they’re part of the film. Ayer also does a superb job of  establishing the film’s tone, balancing the film’s tense and comedic elements to further create authenticity.

In addition to his excellent direction, David Ayer does a strong job in writing “End of Watch.” While the film’s overall plot is nothing original, Ayer’s script succeeds because of its compelling structure.  With the cartel plot largely in the background, the film mostly follows Taylor and Zavala as they work and live on a day-to-day basis.  The script’s structure adds to the film’s realism by allowing the viewer to feel as if they are experiencing two characters who are wholly and uniquely real. Full of depth, Taylor and Zavala are immensely likable characters who are driven by their strong bond. Ayer’s script does an impeccable job of capturing a friendship, evidenced by Taylor and Zavala’s ability to find the humor in life despite the horrors they witness. As strong as Ayer’s characterizations of cops are, the film’s depiction of cartel members tends to veer into cliches and stereotypes. In addition, the script goes overboard on the use of profanity, particularly with some cartel members swearing with every other word.

Along with its excellent direction and script, “End of Watch” succeeds due to its great cast.  Academy-Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances of his career as Brian Taylor, effortlessly displaying Taylor’s charm and likability while realistically capturing what it’s like to be a cop.  Gyllenhaal also has remarkable chemistry with Michael Pena, who is outstanding as the funny and good-hearted Mike Zavala.  Gyllenhaal and Pena are entirely believable as friends, making the film all the more realistic and powerful.  As Taylor’s girlfriend Janet, Anna Kendrick gives a performance that is equally charming and heartfelt.  America Ferrera and Cody Horn are believable as tough female officers, while character actor David Harbour is good as a seasoned officer full of disdain for Taylor and Zavala.

Exhilarating, tense and realistically funny, “End of Watch” is a superbly-executed look at the everyday lives of Los Angeles police officers.  Featuring outstanding performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, “End of Watch” is a must-see film this fall.