David Ayer makes cop movies. There’s still debate about whether or not most of them are any good, but there’s absolutely no question that he’s made a shit-ton of them — six out of the eight movies he has written or directed are almost exclusively about the LAPD and the hell that can be found in South Central Los Angeles. And after over a decade of tweaking, it looks like Ayer has finally come up with a winning formula. “End of Watch,” Ayer’s best film since “Training Day,” without a doubt follows a pre-composed formula. That might seem like an off-putting statement, but “End of Watch” is so gripping, it’s a testament to how well the pre-arranged structure works.
End of Watch
At Quality 16 and Rave
Unlike most of Ayer’s previous work, this latest film tells a story dominated completely by clean cops. Not a single person is on the take, and the overwhelming feeling at every turn of the script is good vs. evil. Hell, the main antagonist (Maurice Compte, TV’s “Breaking Bad”) is a twisted dude literally named “Big Evil,” who takes pleasure in slaughtering unsuspecting cops.
When it comes down to it, one of the biggest reasons this film works so well is that it’s decidedly defined by its characters. There are no complicated plotlines hanging over the film and certainly no unnecessary twists or turns. Most of the film is two normal, fun-loving guys in a cruiser who happen to be amazing cops.
Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Source Code”) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña, “Crash”) are quietly tailing a suspected drug runner until they finally pull him over and, to their surprise, discover wads of cash and a gold-plated AK-47 in the back seat. As it happens, the drug runner is a soldier for the Mexican cartels, who have finally begun exporting their brand of criminal savagery across the border to the streets of Los Angeles. Unceremoniously, the two partners are “green-lit” for an execution and the hunt begins. It’s a simple story that at times suffers from a lack of originality, but also one that perfectly complements the endearing simplicity of the characters.
Perhaps the most off-kilter decision Ayer makes is to have all of the action filmed using miniature portable cameras attached to the actors’ uniforms. It’s a choice that ends up giving a frenetic, breathless feel to most of the action sequences. The violence is intense but its forceful pace, which hits you square in the face is even more nerve-racking. At times, the gun-mounted cameras make the shooting and killing feel like it’s straight out of a video game, and perhaps what Ayer is trying to portray is the near fantastical quality of it all.
Somewhere in our world, what we read about in the paper and pretend to do for entertainment actually happens. Good guys put their lives on the line while scumbags walk away clean. It’s a giant, unforgiving cliché — one that Ayer, helped by two excellent performances from Gyllenhaal and Peña, brings to life.