On the surface, End of Watch doesn’t sound like anything special. Two LAPD officers find themselves targeted by a drug cartel. They have to navigate that while also taking care of their home and personal lives. Nothing about the plot jumps out to you and screams “This movie is going to be awesome!”
But the greatness of End of Watch doesn’t come from the plot, and the movie knows that. The greatness comes from the characters and actors, specifically main characters Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña). Taylor and Zavala came up through the academy together and are partners on the force. The two are best friends, closer to brothers.
Whether real life or in movies/TV, you’ll often hear the narrative about the brotherhood fellow police officers feel with each other. End of Watch demonstrates this maybe as well as any movie ever has. Gyllenhaal and Peña have an easy, natural chemistry. The way they play off each other, you can easily believe the two are best friends.
Then of course there’s the shooting style. This is what really helps set End of Watch apart from other similar movies. Most of its scenes were shot simultaneously by four cameras: handheld camera by Gyllenhaal (his character is taking a film class and films their day to day for a documentary project), body cams on both Gyllenhaal and Peña, and a dash cam.
As you would expect from a film shot like this, the end result is a very close up (literally and figuratively) and intimate look at the lives of the two officers. With Taylor’s camera constantly running, nothing is missed. Whether they’re goofing around or having serious talks about their relationships or families, we get it all.
And family is really the driving force in End of Watch. Taylor goes to Zavala’s daughter’s quinceañera. Zavala and his wife immediately take in Taylor’s new girlfriend, Janet (Anna Kendrick) as one of their own.
That emphasis on family and connectedness – combined with the filming style – allows the viewers to feel a stronger connection to the character. And that makes the movie’s events that much more thrilling and stressful. It’s s up close, it feels at times like you’re right there with them. And you care, you truly care, about these two police officers.
Your body tenses up when they’re approaching a suspect. Your pulse quickens when they’re in danger. You live and breathe as they live and breathe. Given how violent some scenes are, it’s astonishing how emotionally connected you are still able to feel all through the movie.
End of Watch takes a simple, familiar story and flips it on its head, thanks to standout acting and creative film-making decisions. It easily could have been another run-of-the-mill cop thriller. But with writer-director David Ayer and the production team taking the extra creative steps, viewers were treated to an unexpectedly fantastic movie.