As a screenwriter, David Ayer has long been obsessed with the slippery line separating cops from criminals and good cops from their corrupt brethren. He explored the theme in a glorified B-movie that became the foundation for a blockbuster franchise (The Fast And The Furious), a film where he shares a screenwriting credit with author James Ellroy (Dark Blue), and a morally ambiguous cop drama (Training Day) that won Denzel Washington his second Oscar. Ayer made his directorial debut with Harsh Times, an intense drama about a PTSD-afflicted veteran (Christian Bale) who wants to become a cop, but instead becomes a psychotic criminal. And he followed it with the corrupt-cop drama Street Kings, from a screenplay once again co-written by Ellroy. Sticking with the theme, Ayer’s latest, End Of Watch, concerns renegade cops who chase death every time they begin a shift.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña star as hotheaded young policemen who blur a lot of rules they don’t outright break in patrolling some of Los Angeles’ most violent neighborhoods. Their reckless existence is perilous enough even before they stumble upon a massive conspiracy that endangers their lives. A criminally underutilized Anna Kendrick costars as the tough, confident woman who finally tames Gyllenhaal: Her lively intelligence and playful sexuality enliven every scene she’s in, lending personality to a film that too often borders on generic.
End Of Watch initially seems intent on shaking up the tired-renegade-cop genre by having Gyllenhaal furtively film his experiences as part of a college filmmaking class. That potentially interesting new wrinkle barely factors into most of the proceedings, however, especially toward the end. Like Ayer’s previous directorial efforts, End Of Watch has a nice feel for the color and flavor of Los Angeles, as well as the heightened emotions and brotherly solidarity engendered by confronting inner-city horrors day in and day out. Gyllenhaal and Peña’s relationship, a sort of heterosexual love affair, is depicted with a sense of tenderness and care that does not extend to the cartoonish villains that dominate the film’s lackluster final act. End Of Watch is Ayer’s third consecutive directorial exploration of hard living and moral corruption on the mean streets of Los Angeles, but by the time it lumbers to a close, the disappointingly TV-sized film feels less like the resolution of a de facto trilogy than like a rerun limply recycling characters and situations that have been more compellingly dramatized in countless other films and television shows, including Ayer’s own obsessive, monomaniacal oeuvre.