Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. Grittily grim and grimly gritty, Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal share a great chemistry that draws out excellent performances from the pair. But the same can’t be said for their antagonists, and the constant POV camerawork feels jarring after a while. Takes itself just a little bit too seriously. 

End of Watch

Gyllenhall and Pena are brothers in arms © Open Road Films

The notion of the uniformed services being a brotherhood is a well-explored one in movies, notable examples being The Departed (2006) and Pride And Glory (2008). Buddy cop movies like the Lethal Weapon franchise and 48 Hours (1982) have also portrayed the odd couple scenario many times, with varying degrees of success. So while I got a sneak preview of End of Watch during my trip to SDCC back in July, I had my doubts as to how good it would be.

In End of Watch, the bromance comes from white boy Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Hispanic dude Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), two young cops patrolling the gang-infested streets of South Central Los Angeles. And the movie pronounces its gritty intentions right from the get go, with a shootout recorded by squad car mounted police camera. And you just know it’s going to be oh-so-serious when Taylor pronounces via DRAMATIC VOICEOVER:  “I’m a police, and I’m here to arrest you.”

End of Watch

Jake and Michael wondered when the director was going to tell them to stop scowling. © Open Road Films

The trouble starts when the dynamic duo stop a truck while on patrol and discover far more than they bargained for: a stash of money and a gold plated AK-47. This eventually causes a Mexican drug cartel to put out a hit on them, which leads to lots and lots of gunfire and motherf***ing profanity, especially when those motherf***ing gangsters are around, because that’s what a motherf***ing serious movie is supposed to be like, goddamit.

At times, it all feels like an extended episode of Cops or the Grand Theft Auto video game come to life, with its POV camerawork and found footage vibe. Director David Ayer has obviously gone for a gritty, authentic, documentary feel, with the cameras bringing you right into the heart of the action. But there were times when I almost reached for my controller so I could shoot down the bad guys too.

The staging feels very much like a play, with many scenes in tight, enclosed spaces – a squad room, a house, a squad car – which means lots of dialogue. Fortunately, the two leads share an easy and boyish chemistry, with lots of wisecracks. When asked by Zavala why he is so nervous around their commanding officer, Taylor says deadpan: “Dude, I’m not gay, but I’d go down on him if he asked.”

End of Watch

Gyllenhaal and Pena talk a lot. © Open Road Films

And so we follow our heros around LA and share in the horrors that they encounter on a daily basis, from junkies who neglect their kids to a human trafficking ring and even the gruesome sight of dumped and mutilated bodies. As if to assuage any lingering doubts that they might not be good guys, Taylor and Zavala literally run into a burning building to save two children. I was half expecting them to help an old lady cross the street, and rescue a little girl’s cat from a tree.

The women in the narrative do not have much to do besides being the loving, supportive partners, though it is always a pleasure to see the outstanding Anna Kendrick, who plays Taylor’s love interest. The gangsters who go after Taylor and Zavala are also less than impressive – they were apparently instructed that dropping the F-bomb every other sentence would make them look tough.

All in all, despite the missteps, End of Watch is still an intense, absorbing experience that is worth watching for the leading duo’s performances alone.

Have you seen End of Watch ? What did you think of it?