End of Watch is a "buddy cop" movie, pure and simple. But, unlike the many silly comedies about two friends who are cops, it's an exploration of what that truly and deeply means - to be friends in the line of fire.
I once took a class in graduate school for philosophy which was entirely concerned with the virtue of courage. We looked not only at classical theories of courage - Aristotle, Aquinas, Confucius, Mencius, etc. - but at the stories and autobiographies of war heroes, policemen, firemen, and others who were identified as courageous. In almost every case, no person who was "brave" in the classical sense identified themselves as such. "I was just doing my job," or "I just reacted, " or something similar. They often identified themselves as incredibly scared in the moment, and always tended to say, "I wasn't a hero - I wasn't brave." My own experiences with police or soldiers confirms much of that - it's not unusual.
Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are two such policemen, "beat cops," working in horrible district of Los Angeles. In the course of ordinary duties of solving domestic disturbances and noise ordinance enforcement, they stumble across the inhumane and horrific actions of a large drug cartel operating in the city. Before they know it, they are swept into circumstances that lead irrevocably in one - and only one - direction. The question is how they will deal with that journey. Most of the movie develops each of these characters and their friendship, highlighting their motivations - no matter how ordinary - and their deep care for each other.
As the dramatic sequence rolls on and more "heroic" events unfold (despite the now-tacky medium of the "found footage" kind), one realizes that Mike and Brian's courage and friendship are not something that are "made" in these events, but have to do with living out a life where they just choose these things ordinarily, as a matter of course. One doesn't merely choose to be heroic here-and-now or to do this here-and-now - one chooses to be a kind of man, a kind of man who values family and friends over their own life. Then, in uncomfortable and horrific circumstances, they can almost unthinkingly act in defense of those things that are most important to them.
Ultimately, that's why friendships are so important to being courageous. Within police or fire departments or on the battlefield, one needs to love something more than yourself and be willing to sacrifice everything for that other person. Without that, there wouldn't be any point.
Courage can seem a kind of madness - but, then again, so can love.
My Rating: 8 out of 10