DVD reviews: End of Watch, Studio Canal

HAVING established himself as Hollywood’s go-to guy for writing dirty cop movies, David Ayer (Dark Blue/Training Day) changes tack with End of Watch, homing in on Los Angeles beat cops who take pride in risking their lives to maintain the thin blue line between peace and lawlessness without bending the rules too much to get the job done.

End of Watch

Studio Canal, £17.99

That’s the position that officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña) take at any rate. Long-term partners not averse to embracing the bromance clichés that come from being buddy cops who love each other enough to take a bullet for one another, their day-to-day grind is transformed by Ayer – making his second outing as a writer/director (after the blitzkrieg barminess of Harsh Times) – into a semi-mythic account of everyday heroism in the face of extreme adversity.

Set “Once upon a time in South Central,” Ayer drops us into a street war of attrition where dope, guns and money constitute the “three major food groups” and proceeds to give us a trench-eye view by mixing the ubiquitous found-footage device (camcorder shots, night-vision surveillance) with the induced documentary approach that has been a staple of hard-edged cop shows like NYPD Blue, The Shield and Southland since The French Connection showed the way 40 years ago.

The result is an intense, impressionistic effort that on one level puts us viscerally in the moment with the characters, but also reinforces the notion that in our current surveillance culture you really don’t know who is watching who. That’s an idea that’s particularly pertinent to Taylor and Zavala as they get in way over their heads after stumbling across the operations of a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. But it also makes a more subtle historical connection to the LAPD’s most notorious incident: Rodney King.

It doesn’t all work. The women are mostly relegated to wives and girlfriends and the ending also errs on the side of Hollywood caution (the DVD extras include the ending the film should have used in order for this to have been an instant classic).

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Nevertheless, Ayer mostly does a fine job of creating a dynamic cop movie that both reflects the changing culture and acknowledges crime’s intransigence through the ages. At the centre of it all, meanwhile, Gyllenhaal and Peña’s playful, raucous chemistry makes it easy to buy into the idea of screen cops being the good guys again.

• To order this DVD, call The Scotsman on 01634 832789