Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in a terrific shift as a pair of LAPD patrol cops whose dedication to the job - and each other - is their greatest strength... and most dangerous weakness. Over five turbulent months, the partners strive to keep their personal lives afloat while being dragged ever-deeper into the drug-plagued desperation of South Central. Writer-director David Ayer deploys a pulsating reality TV style to present a compelling flipside to his bad-cop chronicle Training Day.
End Of Watch plays out like TV's Cops on speed, all visceral action, shaky camerawork and shouty dialogue.
Having provided the script for the anti-buddy cop saga Training Day that saw Denzel Washington to an Oscar, it's David Ayer's attempt to breath life into a heavily run-down formula. And it works.
It centres on a two partners in central LA, Officers Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Pena). The jokers of their unit, the pair are close, close friends, in that romanticised Riggs and Murtagh kind of way.
Out on patrol, Zavala and Taylor get into all kinds of scrapes, many of which are connected by a plot thread they simply aren't aware of - these are beat cops, not detectives.
Even when those in the know do hit the scene, Taylor and Zavala aren't qualified to get the answers they crave in a world they think they do, but clearly don't, understand.
Director Ayer is acutely aware that for the piece to work, the audience needs to be invested deeply in the characters, something he achieves by grounding them with family. Zavala is expecting a baby, while Taylor strikes up a romance with Janet (Kendrick), a new squeeze who, for the first time in his life, offers marriage potential.
While neither woman receives a great deal of screen time, they are ever-present in the dialgoue, helping to swell the sense of dread any time the partners head into the breach.
Ayer's approach isn't perfect. The camera concept is muddled, with the perspective flicking between Blair Witch-style, POV shots and the real, multi-camera shot set up. It's not even a concept, just a whim-driven flipflop between two styles.
While this is distracting at the start, by the time the action is in full flow, the POV shots feel like an added bonus, taking the viewer deep into the action in a way 3D never will.
Narratively, however, Taylor's insistence on waving digicams around for an unseen (and soon forgotten) documentary he claims to be making doesn't quite add up.
There's also the pitfall of depicting apparently real-life cops, but without showing the true mundanity of their lives, despite it being hinted at. Even the infamous cops' paperwork offers an opportunity for light relief.
However it's light relief that's much needed. Every time the cops get a call, every time they enter a new property, there's a palpable sense of tension. A shooter could be around any corner, behind any door, in any car.
That the actors spent three months prepping, hanging out with the LAPD and wearing the uniforms, yet only one month shooting the film makes total sense. There's an air of authenticity in an admittedly stylised depiction of the LA streets.
And when it comes to enveloping the audience with the constant, imminent danger, End Of Watch is a rousing success. As the buddies creep around each curtain, you won't guess what's waiting for them, but you'll sure as hell fear it.