"Once upon a time in South Central" is not how you would expect any film that is to be taken seriously to begin. But then again most police buddy films are not like "End of Watch". The film is written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote "Training Day" (2001) and "the Fast and the Furious" (2001). David Ayer writes about what he knows best, which are the streets of Los Angeles where he grew up; and delivers witty and realistic dialogue that ignores the cliches of other police films. David Ayer has said that most of the situations shown in the film were ones encountered by his friend, Jaime FitzSimons (technical adviser and acts as the police captain), during his service with the LAPD.
The story takes place during the summer of 2011 when Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ex-marine, and his partner Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) have recently been cleared of a shooting. They have become the hotshots in the station with an ego that accompanies it. Taylor is taking a film class and is filming the day-to-day activities of being an officer with the LAPD, which provides the lense that a lot of the film is seen through. This hands-on approach to filming along with the dashboard cameras that are attached to the police cruisers gives the film a gritty and realistic feel that immediately separates it from other police films. This is a story of police work in an often difficult neighborhood: their duties (the life blood of police work is the paper work), their dangers, and sometimes the drudgery of what they must do which is why "policing is all about comfortable footwear".
As the story develops Officer Taylor and Zavala confiscate two of the major food groups, money and guns (including Liberace's AK-47 and other blinged out guns) from a member of a cartel during a routine traffic stop. At first the connection between the routine traffic stop and other activity that Taylor and Zavala discover isn't clear. However, what is clear is that these two are some of LAPD's finest as they receive the Medal of Valour for saving the lives of children in a house fire. David Ayer almost goes out of his way to establish the quality of these two officers as compared to the other films about the LAPD that generally portray the police as being corrupt. Much of the films intensity comes from the very real influence of the Mexican drug cartels in southern California and how Officer Taylor and Zavala stumble upon the critical inner workings.
The chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña is unquestionable as the brotherhood of the police force supports the family emotions centered in the film. The dialogue between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña provides a lot more comedy to the film than anticipated, which helps soften the heaviness of the situation that the film deals with. Their differences and their mutual put-downs can't quite hide the level of trust and family that is the police force. The friendship that emerges in the two officers is only supported by their girlfriend/wives, who contribute to the realism of their life outside the police cruiser. Janet (Anna Kendrick) comes across as someone Officer Taylor could really fall in love with, just as the sassy side of Gabby (Natalie Martinez) complements the fun side of Officer Zavala.
One scene that will probably get some people talking is the funny wedding dance between Anna Kendrick and Jake Gyllenhaal. I am sure that someone will be copying this for their own wedding and posting it on youtube. Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It" is an 80s classic that will never go out of style.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña give the best performances of their careers and I could even see both of them deserving of a nomination (not sure who would be the lead though). In addition to the acting, the script is tightly written and the hand-held camera work is creative without being nauseating. The overall intent of the film is made clear towards the end of the credits where recognition of all those who serve in law enforcement is given. This is the best police film I have seen in a while and is a 5 Quack film.