Writer-director David Ayer evidently believes that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Since his 2001 script for ‘Training Day’, which landed Denzel Washington a long overdue Oscar as Best Actor, the Illinois-born film-maker has been fascinated by camaraderie and corruption within the rank and file of the Los Angeles Police Department.
‘Dark Blue’, ‘Harsh Times’ and ‘Street Kings’ all painted unremittingly bleak portraits of life in uniform and, unsurprisingly, ‘End Of Watch’ is stuck in that same dramatic rut.
Despite the opening title card – “Once upon a time in South Central…” - this tour of the city streets with the men and women of the LAPD is no fairytale.
Villains don’t get their comeuppance, beautiful heroines are slain before clocks chime midnight and the only people living happily ever after are the pimps and drug dealers, who exploit the weak and vulnerable.
Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) patrol the mean streets, trading macho banter in between shoot-outs with bad guys.
An opening car chase, shot through a police windscreen, ends in bloodshed and the duo are re-assigned to another part of the city and told mock-seriously “not to kill anybody by the end of the week”.
Like Sarge (Frank Grillo) and fellow cops Van Hauser (David Harbour), Orozco (America Ferrera) and Davis (Cody Horn), the buddies accept that their beat is riddled with drugs and the killing will never cease.
When Brian and Mike uncover a trafficking operation run by a local cartel, they are marked for death.
“You just tugged on the tail of a snake that’s going to turn round and bite you,” warns a DEA agent.
Brian and Mike ignore the warning signs and stumble further into the mire when drugs seized at an old woman’s home lead to a ghoulish discovery in a blood-smeared room.
Through their recklessness, the partners endanger not just themselves but also their respective sweethearts, Janet (Anna Kendrick) and heavily pregnant Gabby (Natalie Martinez).
‘End Of Watch’ boasts thrilling action sequences and strong performances but familiarity with Ayer’s work breeds mild weariness.
He’s covered this dramatic territory before.
The writer-director introduces the stylistic conceit of Brian secretly recording his work in the opening frames, capturing key scenes through the lens of the officer’s omnipresent camera, which becomes a lapel-mounted device in later sequences.
Juddering handheld visuals continue throughout, including a climactic shootout in alleyways and corridors.
Gyllenhaal and Pena are convincing as men who would take a bullet for each other, chewing on Ayer’s potty-mouthed dialogue, including a hilarious anecdote about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To uphold the law, you sometimes have to break it and then hide behind a shiny police badge.
Apparently that’s the modern-day fairytale.
Star Rating: 3½