Cop movies set in Los Angeles are a curious mix of sunshine and urban decay. It is very much a city of extremes. David Ayer’s End of Watch, eschews the glamour and takes a very functional look at policing. Street cops Taylor and Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña), patrol the down at the heel neighbourhoods and are portrayed very much as a force for good. The fact that they are shown as close friends rather than characters at odds with each other is also an interesting spin on the old cop-buddy genre. The movie not only focuses on the daily police routine but also their wider family lives. The banter between the leads in very natural and amusing, bolstering the pseudo-documentary feel.
However, End of Watch in its second act changes gear and increases the action, as the Taylor and Zavala fall foul of a drugs cartel. Yet this does not compromise the narrative and viable story arc is maintained. It is very unusual for a cop movie to successfully be able to tread the fine line between both action and drama without straying to far either way. Some have described it as the thinking man’s action movie. William Friedkin, director of The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. has hailed End of Watch as “may be the best cop film ever”. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far but it certainly is a shot in the arm for the genre.
End of Watch is somewhat linear in itself but where it excels is in its depiction of cops. I dislike the term bromance as it imposes a rather simple interpretation and philosophy on the complex dynamics of police partnerships. It is a relationship that is nearer to symbiosis. The movie also avoids any overt political of sociological points about inequality, poverty and crime in Los Angeles. It simply shows things the way it is and leaves the viewer to ponder on the wider issues. It will be interesting to see if director Ayar continues to focus on this specific area of film making or whether his next piece of work will step in to another genre. Either way I hope he continues to produce such in-depth character studies.