Born in 1968, filmmaker David Ayer grew up in the infamously troubled region known as South Central Los Angeles. As an adult, his Hollywood calling card was the screenplay for Training Day (2001), in which Denzel Washington played a corrupt South Central cop. For End of Watch, his third film as writer-director, Ayer has gone home yet again, and as in his previous work, one gets the sense of a skilled craftsman who has learned everything he knows about the ‘hood not from firsthand experience but from going to the movies. And so it is that the daily routine of street cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) includes encounters with drug-addled parents who brutalize their kids, a nightgown-clad black mother screaming “My babies! My babies!” in front of her burning house, and Latina gang girls who literally cackle as they kill. As social insight, End of Watch is useless, but as engrossing entertainment, it’s irresistible, thanks to Ayer’s gift for dialogue, the relentless pacing set by film editor Dody Dorn, and gorgeous performances by Gyllenhaal and Peña, whose chemistry contains the elements essential to a classic screen teaming: raucous humor, erotic tension, and a hint of the miraculous. Chuck Wilson
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