Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are from different backgrounds, but share the same interest -- protecting the dangerous, gang-riddled streets of Los Angeles.
Taking a film class in his spare time (it is L.A.), Taylor begins carrying a video camera with him to document his work. This footage creates a sharply focused, fixed eye through which the action seems to take place in real time.
Female cops Davis (Magic Mike’s Cody Horn) and Orozco (America Ferrera) add that dichotomy of feminine toughness and vulnerability to the job, giving that extra touch of reality. But none of the cops in this story are preternaturally bad-a** -- they are real people with real lives outside the squad car.
The filmmakers and actors do a superb job at nuancing the details of life as a cop, including Taylor sorting his way through “Badge Bunnies” (ladies turned on by the badge) and then marrying Janet (Anna Kendrick), a woman too smart to fall for a power trip.
But the most compelling relationship in the film is that between Taylor and Zavala. They are partners who look out for each other as if they were blood brothers on the battlefield. And there is a war out there, with drugs and automatic weapons at every turn. It’s baffling that anyone would risk their life to be a cop in a city so violent, but many braves souls do. It is incredibly humbling.
The violence in this film is ultrarealistic and graphic. One stunning scene reveals an officer giving commands with a knife protruding from his eye socket. A sight so shocking, I had to catch my breath and refocus on the scene.
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