David Ayer has spent much of his career chronicling the life of Los Angeles law enforcement in his screenplays for Training Day, S.W.A.T. and Dark Blue, and directing Street Kings. With End of Watch, he pulls double duty. The result is an invigorating, pulse-pounding crime drama.
Through a found-footage gimmick that really isn’t necessary to sell this story, we follow LAPD officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña, Gangster Squad) on patrol. Because these two are more than mere partners — they are best friends and in-spirit brothers — the film lives and thrives on their unbreakable bond.
For a while, the movie coasts along on a handful of episodic events, reminding one of the novels of police-fiction master Joseph Wambaugh — not a bad thing at all. Eventually, threads tie into a tight, triple-knotted plot of a Mexican drug cartel aiming for the boys’ badges and bodies, much to the dismay of our heroes’ respective partners — most notably Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), adorable as ever as Brian’s new girlfriend who’s perhaps The One, if she’s willing to accept the sacrifice cops’ wives must make.
Sacrifice is an ever-present theme, and End of Watch captures that as authentically as the cops’ camaraderie. I’ve made dozens of ride-alongs with officers in three states — Oklahoma included, of course — and the behavior witnessed whether in the cruiser or the station is reflected with accuracy here. (The only difference is, thankfully, I never witnessed gunfire, of which the film bears no shortage.)
Gyllenhaal and Peña excel in their roles to the point of disappearing in them and, in a way, uniting as one. Ayer could have dispensed with the conventions of Hollywood narrative and just had these guys amble around town from one call to another, and it still would fascinate. Hell, I could have, would have gladly watched these two do their thing for hours. It’s simply that solid.
That enthusiasm does not extend to Officer Down, a mediocre, generic look at one week in the life of police detective David Callahan (Stephen Dorff, Immortals), a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober since he was shot two years prior.
Callahan just might be tempted to hit the bottle again as he falls into a mess of trouble that involves an at-large rapist who may be a fellow officer, a stripper (AnnaLynne McCord, Excision), his own daughter, his yelling superior (James Woods, TV’s Coma), a Russian witness and many others.
Director Brian A. Miller’s thriller is a pot containing enough ingredients ready for the stirring, but John Chase’s script is overly muddled by a confusing timeline prone to flashbacks. Confusion overpowers potential.
I watched Officer Down only because I believe Dorff is on the precipice of a big comeback, and hoped this would help fuel that. It doesn’t, through no fault of his. To see what Dorff can really do with a meaty part of an agent of law enforcement, watch last year’s Brake. It’s a trip, whereas this one never quite gets rolling. —Rod Lott
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• Source Code Blu-ray review
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