As a screenwriter and now filmmaker, David Ayer has one obsessive interest: the morally fractured men who serve in the Los Angeles Police Department. It's been the focus of Training Day (directed by Antoine Fuqua), Dark Blue (directed by Ron Shelton) and Street Kings; by way of variety there was Harsh Times, where Christian Bale's damaged former soldier simmers while he waits to join the LAPD.
End of Watch, the story of two beat cops and best friends - played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena - who share an LAPD cruiser, is proof Ayer is slowly improving as a director, offering a mix of drily observed casualness and sudden action that reflects not only the unpredictable milieu of south-central Los Angeles but also the characters' unspoken needs.
The movie has an unnecessary found-footage angle, courtesy of official car cameras and hand-held camcorders, but if the idea is to accentuate the intimacy between Gyllenhaal's Brian Taylor and Pena's Mike Zavala, it's superfluous. The two actors
give such lived-in, at-ease performances, they're essentially married. The story's authenticity comes not from the preening, violent criminals or their nightmarish acts, but the conversations - coarse, funny and sometimes starkly honest - between the two.
"Enjoy your white-people shit," Mike tells the intellectually restless Brian before he takes Janet (Anna Kendrick, with the chirpiness toned down) to a classical concert, and the cops are at ease with their racial stereotyping of each other because they're neither white nor brown, but, rather, blue. The pair need to believe the gung-ho street-cop lore they recite so they can kick in doors and pull over possible killers without experiencing doubt.
End of Watch updates the milieu first documented by Dennis Hopper's Colors 24 years ago, although the focus is now Latino criminal organisations, and for a good portion of the movie there's no real plot. Their day goes from calm to calamitous and back, or they're shooed away from a crime scene by detectives before anything is explained.
Ayer tries to capture the sweep of the duo's lives, and sometimes he makes do with showy, isolated scenes that lead to an excessive, faintly ludicrous finale. It's a shame he couldn't stick with the mundane madness and barbed humour, especially when the partners interact with their female equivalents, the hard-nosed Orozco and Davis (America Ferrera and Cody Horn, respectively). They're the LAPD officers Ayer needs to pursue next.