Though not the first film to draw the parallel between crime-infested Los Angeles and the Wild West of legend (high-rolling drug-runners are dubbed “cowboys” by the police), End of Watch is easily the most frightening and realistic of these and probably the most urgent and unsettling plea for drug legalization yet produced by Hollywood.  The film follows young beat cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) as they patrol and try to protect the streets of South Central, with Taylor’s amateur video footage documenting their daily duties.

In his voice-over introduction, Taylor explains that, while he might not necessarily agree with the laws his job obligates him to enforce, he does, nonetheless, very forcefully enforce the laws.  He thus introduces the strong element of grayness and human complexity into what is an extremely sympathetic portrait of public servants who, while flawed and given to unprofessional and irrational behavior, are good men genuinely concerned with the safety of the citizenry.  Taylor and Zavala thrive on machismo and drive without fastening their safety belts – in more than one sense – so that the viewer is constantly in fear for their lives even when they themselves are not.

More than the usual regimen of danger and crisis awaits them when their beat duties intersect with shocking evidences of Mexican drug cartel strength and encroachments.  (One black thug voices real anxiety over demographic change and the supplanting or extinction of his kind from the Mexican influx.)  By not shying away from confronting what proves to be a larger and better-organized, more vicious and immediate menace than both men realize, they soon find themselves on the prey side of the street jungle equation and end up having to fight just to try to get out with their lives.  “Spent most of his time as a teenager on the most troubled streets of South Central Los Angeles,” reads the trivia section of writer-director David Ayer’s IMDb profile – of which End of Watch is an ample proof.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that End of Watch is:

7. Cristo-ambivalent.  Mike Zavala derives meaning and structure from faith, but the Christianity practiced by the cartel “cowboys” is devoid of morality and has its gaudy roots sunk in grotesque pagan ritual.

6. Pro-miscegenation.  Zavala suggests that Taylor should marry a nice Mexican girl.

5. Politically incorrect/arguably racist/anti-Negro.  Taylor and Zavala good-naturedly rib each other with race-based humor.  Ayer is careful to provide positive depictions of Hispanics to counterbalance the savagery of the Mexican cartel primitives, but blacks, also largely criminal, are more than once depicted as lacking parental competence.  A lazing black officer is also the butt of Taylor’s practical joke.

4. State-skeptical.  The drug war is a failure.  Federal agents are suspiciously secretive and mostly unseen players in the story, but more than once appear to be omnipresent.

3. Pro-marriage/pro-family.

2. Antiwar – in this case, the drug war.  The violence, the product of the gangster-empowerment resulting from prohibition, is always disorienting and unpleasant rather than cartoonishly entertaining.

1. Pro-police.