A high speed pursuit leads to a deadly shootout with a quartet of gang bangers, captured clearly on the police car’s video camera. Just another day in Los Angeles.
Several weeks later we join police officers Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) as they return to duty. Currently enrolled in college and taking filmmaking as an elective, Taylor introduces himself by way of a monologue he records before starting his shift. The first day back is also going to be the first day of the rest of he and Zavala’s lives, though even they aren’t aware of that fact.
Told in an often startling documentary style, “End of Watch” is a gritty police drama that benefits from another in a string of outstanding performances by both Gyllenhaal and Pena. Writer/director Ayers is no stranger to the police or South Central L.A., having written such tough urban thrillers as “Training Day” and “Harsh Times.” Here he includes the true camaraderie between the officers that is more like brothers than co-workers. “If anything happens to you I will take care of your children” we hear one partner tell another. And they mean it.
The story starts and ends big with a large slow gap in between. Through happenstance both Taylor and Zavala find themselves in situation that puts them I direct contact with members of a Mexican drug cartel beginning to make their move in America. These are easily the two most exciting cops in L.A. as their duty days progress and they find themselves doing things that most police officers do in an entire career. The characterizations are strong, as is the cast. It’s really only the plot, which seems to come and go when the need serves, that keeps this from being an outstanding film.