Nerve-rattling in the best way, the sharp, visceral urban police procedural End of Watch is one of the best American cop movies I've seen in a long time. Directed from his own script by Training Day writer David Ayer, it's also one of the few I've seen that pay serious attention to what cop life feels like, both on and off duty, for those who protect and serve the streets of L.A.'s danger zone Southland. The representative beat cops here sometimes hotshots, but nothing like the rogues in Training Day are longtime partners Taylor (a toughened, buzz-cut Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (an outstanding Michael Peña; see opposite page). Their duties range from the routine to the macabre, from the heroic to the tedious. They're rowdy when they let off steam, and properly scared when they do brave things. Cop work is well served in this tale.
One of Taylor's rowdier moves is to sneak a discreet HD camera onto the job, against department policy, to record his day for an extracurricular filmmaking class. That clever narrative twist and the jumpy found-footage, documentary-style cinematography with which Ayer tells the story builds to a powerful conclusion. (The pulsing hip-hop score adds to the adrenaline.) Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal and Peña embody brotherly love with an ease that explains why their director was sometimes a bit too reluctant to call "Cut." No one wants to end such a beautiful friendship. A-