David Ayer made his reputation by writing Training Day, one of the most visceral portraits of police corruption in recent memory. As if to apologize, his latest effort, End of Watch (which he also directed), functions primarily as a sticky-sweet mash note to the boys in blue, depicting a few episodically heroic days in the lives of two likeable, entirely laudable LAPD officers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña). In an unnecessary gimmick, one of them is taking a film course during his off hours and outfits both himself and his partner with mini-cameras, to which they often directly speak even as they’re protecting and serving. But when they inadvertently stumble onto evidence of a murderous drug cartel, things turn ugly enough that the school project, along with everything else apart from not being killed, is completely forgotten.
Gyllenhaal and Peña reportedly spent five months together working with real-life cops, and the effort shows; End of Watch is at its best during its most relaxed moments, observing the camaraderie and mutual respect between two professionals. But Ayer wants so badly for us to appreciate the sacrifices officers make that he crosses the line into idolatry. Despite its (clumsy) self-shot structure, the film repeatedly cuts to omniscient-perspective scenes of perps either plotting our heroes’ demise with lip-smacking sadistic fervor or—even more preposterously—praising our heroes to fellow miscreants, post-arrest, for keepin’ it gangsta. (Seriously.) The finale in particular is six different kinds of shameless. Surely it’s possible to honor the police without resorting to propaganda.