With throat-grabbing immediacy, giddily frenetic cop thriller End of Watch thrusts you into the front seat of an LA patrol car alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña’s freewheeling police officers as they bust heads and collar crooks on the mean streets of South Central.
Best buddies as well as partners, Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Peña) bring a gung-ho muscular zest to their police work, but their impetuosity puts them in the crosshairs of a Mexican drug cartel after a routine traffic stop uncovers a cache of money and arms.
Writer-director David Ayer puts us in Taylor and Zavala shoes by deploying the increasingly familiar device of first-person documentary-style camerawork. We see much of the action through the lens of the surveillance camera in the duo’s squad car, through the hand-held digicam Taylor has smuggled on duty and through the mini cameras he attaches to his and his partner’s uniforms – he’s making a film about their working lives for a night-school project. Some of the footage even comes from cameras wielded by the Latino gangbangers the cops are trying to bring down.
But Ayer, whose rap sheet of LA crime films includes Training Day and Harsh Times, doesn’t use the found-footage device consistently, switching to a more conventional ‘third-person’ camera when it suits the narrative.
The inconsistency is occasionally confusing and slightly irritating, but what redeems End of Watch – and gives it extra vividness – is the joshing throwaway banter between the cop partners. Irreverent and funny, the byplay gives us a real sense of their camaraderie and makes us care about their fates when they put themselves in harm’s way, as do their equally sparky off-duty relationships with the women in their lives, Taylor’s girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick) and Zavala’s wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez).
For all its in-your-face directness, the first-person camera stuff is ultimately a gimmick; it’s the cops’ bond that’s truly authentic.
In cinemas from Friday 23rd November.
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