Los Angeles Police Department Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) has a personal project planned: he wants to make a documentary of his time on the force, filmed by himself, even though if his superiors found out they would frown on it. His partner is Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), who not only does he rely on professionally but personally as well, they truly are best friends and like nothing better than when they are out on patrol, driving around and chatting away with one another. But work has to intrude, and after shooting some armed felons to death after a car chase, they have made enemies...
Writer and director David Ayer was best known for his script for cop drama Training Day which won Denzel Washington his Oscar, but he was evidently not finished with the genre as he returned to it with what seemed to be yet another found footage movie in End of Watch. It wasn't, and though it shouldn't have been this was a distraction when some shots were taken from Taylor's cameras while others were taken from Ayer's cameras, leaving you wondering who was supposed to be capturing all that we saw: were the cops being tailed by a documentary crew who Taylor had hired to make more of a production of his home videos?
And if so, how come nobody mentioned them? Obviously we were in the realms of artistic licence here, and as if to keep our minds off his curious technique Ayer apparently wrote, directed and edited the movie while suffering from attention deficit disorder for just as we were getting used to one subplot another would interrupt it, so that the whole affair resembled one long string of subplots lacking a proper overarching narrative. There was one of those, but it took a while to dominate, and it was all about the two cops' involvement with a Mexican drugs cartel who happen to have gotten into a serious case of people trafficking as well as their other business in South Central.
Not that our heroes were corrupt, quite the opposite in fact, but they were putting their lives on the line in increasing amounts which might have you suggesting they be given some kind of protection, though either the characters or Ayer apparently never thought of that, presumably because that would have messed up the impact of his ending. To contribute to that was a lot about their personal lives, and even though it was their male bonding that was the most important thing for both men - they really laid it on thick - Zavara was married to Gabby (who if she looked like a model that's due to her being actual model Natalie Martinez) with a baby on the way, and Taylor was considering Janet (Anna Kendrick) as the one for him to settle down with.
Aside from those diversions into sentimentality, there were a bunch of action movie scenes too, from a car chase to open the movie (ending with that gunfight sparking all the trouble) to a drive-by shooting and a climax, near enough anyway, which turned the usual cliché of the bad guys not being able to hit the broad side of a barn on its head; well, just about. That this was so well acted helped paper over some large cracks of implausibility and contrivance, with Gyllenhaal and Peña convincing as best buddies in the leads down to the smaller roles, with Yahira Flakiss Garcia particularly memorable as a formidable lesbian gangster who wouldn't have been out of place in classic crime TV such as The Wire. It's a pity then the film couldn't make up its mind whether it was a high tension thrill ride or a contemplation of a policeman's lot not being a happy one, and falling between two stools rendered it unrealistic. Plus that ending was plain weird - heartwarming? Tearjerking? Inspirational? Lewd? What? Music by David Sardy.