“End of Watch,” a visceral and strangely gripping story of police brotherhood in the rough parts of Los Angeles, succeeds at some of the things “Act of Valor” failed at earlier this year. That movie tried to convey the camaraderie and bravery of the Navy SEALs by having real SEALs play fictional ones, but was sunk by a lousy script and noticeably bad acting. “End of Watch” zeroes in on a pair of L.A.’s finest, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), whose interaction as partners and friends has a compelling, documentary-like authenticity that carries the film even when the story drifts into day-in-the-life mundaneness.
Written and directed by LAPD aficionado David Ayer (his screenplays include “Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” and “S.W.A.T.”), “End of Watch” doesn’t benefit from its framing device, which has Taylor, a night-school student, filming his daily adventures for a class project. The snippets of footage we see from his camera’s POV don’t put us in the moment any better than the rest of the movie, which is shot in an effective you-are-there hand-held style anyway. And at its core, it’s a formula film, not vastly different in content from a season of TV’s “Southland” or a comparable high-quality police drama.
What makes it worthwhile are Gyllenhaal and Peña’s soulful performances as colleagues who have become like brothers, each as dependent on the other as they are on their own spouses. As they go from call to call (in the process stumbling into gang activity that leads to larger evils), they joke, quarrel, boast, and confide like two bros at a bar, only not in a way that makes you want to punch them. It’s one of the best depictions of male friendship that I’ve seen in a movie this year, wholly believable and at times shockingly tender. Also shocking, in an entertaining way: the occasional bursts of gruesome violence that Ayer uses as punctuation to make sure we haven’t been lulled into thinking this is some touchy-feely tripe.
B (1 hr., 49 min.; )