A quick glance at the filmography of David Ayer reads like a Los Angeles rap sheet. He started off writing scripts — the initial installment of The Fast and the Furious back in 2001, Training Day (also 2001), Dark Blue (2002) and SWAT (2003) — before moving up the ranks into directing his own screenplays, starting with Harsh Times (2005) and then Street Kings (2008). Notice an MO in the subject matter? Ayer loves the dark and gritty side of the law and order game. His latest, End of Watch, presents a case study of a pair of patrolmen: Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former soldier who brings that rah-rah spirit to tackling crime in the streets, and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), a tough-tender Hispanic man rooted in the everyday and a powerfully steadfast sense of honor.
Taylor’s taking classes, in between his hours on patrol and the time he devotes to raking up one-night stands, and is “required” to record footage from his life, so he employs handheld cameras and lapel clips to document as much of his ride-alongs as he can without drawing undue attention from his superiors, which means that we, the audience, are privy to not only the questionable thrills of pursuit and the slight abuses that take place among cops and the suspected criminals they encounter, but also the random exchanges between these two men, bound by something deeper than blood. When their cowboy style attracts heat from a drug cartel and the action ramps up, we are willing to ride with Taylor and Zavala because we know their aim (and that of Ayer), to serve and protect, is unflinchingly true. (R) Grade: B+