'End of Watch' Review: Found Footage Gimmick Enlivens Cop Drama

There are two main characters in the gritty cop thriller "End of Watch" but for much of its running time, it feels like there are only two characters in the whole film. The plot so revolves around Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) that most of the secondary characters simply seem there to interact with the dynamic duo at the core of the story.


As the film starts, Zavala has been married for eight years while Taylor, his partner, is enjoying the pleasures of bachelorhood. The police officers spend some of their time talking about women but much of their time just making fun of each other and enjoying one another’s company. They share a fraternal bond that extends beyond the badge and beyond the mortal limitations of a regular friendship.

The story then takes viewers on watch with the cops over a series of several months. We observe Zavala brawling with a known criminal in the darkness of a house and see how that fight leads the two men to develop a certain respect for each other. We also watch the duo face off against violent criminals who neither respect nor appreciate the police. Outside of work, Zavala welcomes a new child into his home and Taylor commits to a relationship with girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick). Ultimately, the partners become engaged in a battle with a drug cartel that threatens both of their loves.

Much of the filming is done by Taylor's character, who is taking a film project at school and recording his daily routine for school. That concept - handheld cameras most of the time - unfortunately grows stale though around the halfway mark. Simply to force the concept to work, the gangsters going after the cops also have their own cameras as well. Even as the action took off, it is distracting to still wonder who is holding the camera at any given point. And during private moments between the partners and gun battles, it’s difficult to think that someone would be so determined to make sure that it all gets on tape.

That being said, the film strives for realism and often finds it in the depiction of police work and the relationships that officers share with each other. A repeated line notes that officers stand by each other as brothers and sisters and are willing to die for one another. That aspect rings true, and so does some of the crude and vulgar language that perpetrates the proceedings, even though the reliance of the F-bomb in the dialogue does seem to be a bit much.

David Ayer, who wrote and directed the film, also penned "Training Day" so he knows how to tell a solid story on film. He should be commended for the well-written and well-acted "End of Watch." Despite its flaws, "Watch" is well worth a look.

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