"End of Watch" is so gut-wrenchingly authentic that I suspect only a real cop could review it fairly.
Since I'm not one, I'll start by observing that if L.A. police-work actually involves even half this stuff, I'm glad somebody else does it - because I never could.
That reaction seems to be the goal of writer-director David Ayer, who dedicates his film to "all those who fight evil so that we may not know it" - especially officers killed in the line of duty.
This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from “End of Watch.”
"End of Watch" features career-topping performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Los Angeles beat cops who eventually go up against an unspeakably barbaric drug cartel.
As Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Pena) work somewhat unwittingly toward this showdown, the script takes an almost plotless approach, showing us their daily grind after returning to duty in the wake of a high-speed chase that left two thugs deservedly dead.
Plotless, yes. Boring?
Not on your life.
That opening car-chase is mesmerizing; with help from dozens of real-life officers acknowledged in the credits, Ayer sustains this spell-binding authenticity throughout, as the two heroes plunge into one stomach-churning mess after another - including a house fire with trapped kids and a run-in with human trafficking.
But police-work isn't the only thing keeping the gas pedal floored in this film. Ayer focuses carefully on the two men - how different they are, yet how much they love each other; and especially their commitment to the women in their lives.
Between the chases, shoot-outs and tension-filled stand-offs, "End of Watch" squeezes in comedy - mostly pranks and insults between various officers - along with plenty of romance, including a terrific wedding scene that touches on many different emotions.
Though it's fairly crude, I loved the part where Zavala's wife gives sex-advice to the young bride; it says a lot about this woman's commitment to her mate - and why he's absolutely crazy about her.
Speaking of crude: Folks who don't like swearing will be turned off by "End of Watch." The script boasts at least 300 f-bombs (that's a conservative estimate; with one character it's literally every other word).
Cursing in movies doesn't often bother me much, but I found it distracting here - though there must be plenty of folks who actually talk like this, especially in the world of L.A. police-work.
The only other downside: As Taylor is recording much of his daily work for a film class, roughly half of Ayer's film consists of video captured this way (along with dashboard-camera footage); yet he does not restrict himself to this, and the random mixture of "found footage" and traditional camerawork can be unsettling.
But none of this detracts from this galvanizing tale of two genuine heroes, one of whom describes himself this way: "I am a consequence. I am an unpaid bill. I am your fate with a badge and a gun."
That's good writing.