David Ayer's quasi-documentary drama has a jittery energy, if not much flow as a narrative. It follows the day-to-day patrols of two LA cops, Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña), as they chase down villains, get into fights, chew the fat in their cruiser, rescue kids from a house on fire, and deal with "the major food groups – money and guns".
They see horrible things, and Brian, wielding a videocam, records most of them. It's your averagely violent, averagely squalid tour through the hell of South Central Los Angeles, with one big difference.
Ayer's previous form in this territory – he wrote Training Day for Denzel Washington, and directed Street Kings – usually involves a background of conspiracy and at least one bad-apple cop. This time the cops are good guys who, amid all the pranks and joshing, mind one another's backs.
A thin plot trickles through the daily routine – a Mexican drugs cartel is after the pair – which brings it down almost to a Grand Theft Auto level of thuggery. It's nothing we haven't seen or heard before, but Ayer's muscular film-making keeps us absorbed.