A strong sense of camaraderie sets this edgy police thriller apart from the crowd. And it's also a change of direction for writer-director David Ayer, who has explored the dark side of police corruption in Training Day, Harsh Times and Street Kings. But this film focusses instead on two good-guy cops just trying to do their job and have happy private lives.
On the gritty streets of Los Angeles, officers Taylor and Zavala (Gyllenhaal and Pena) continually make important arrests, which really annoys their serious-minded colleague Van Hauser (Harbour) because they're usually joking around as well. But their captain (Grillo) is slowly starting to respect their work. Meanwhile, their loyal partnership in the streets spills over into their private lives, and they lend support to each other as Taylor falls in love with Janet (Kendrick) and Zavala's wife (Martinez) gives birth to their first child. On the other hand, a Mexican cartel boss has just put a price on their heads after they busted his operation.
Ayer shoots the film like a fly-on-the-wall doc, with hand-held cameras capturing each scene. Sometimes the shaky imagery is a bit distracting since it has nothing to do with the plot, but it encourages the cast to deliver offhanded, bristly performances that build our interest during the nicely meandering first half. Then things shift drastically as a major plot kicks into gear that involves what the cops call the three food groups: drugs, money and guns.
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