I begin this review with a contradictory statement, knowingly and with a heart unburdened with guilt or shame: End of Watch is one of the most gripping, heart-wrenching, engrossing, funny buddy cop movies ever made and I absolutely implore you not to see it.

There, I’ve said it, now let me explain why. I can almost guarantee that End of Watch will turn your stomach and break your heart in equal measure. It is truly one of the most depressing and sad films I’ve seen in a very long time.

I’ll admit I had my reservations going into this film – much of Ayer’s previous work including S.W.A.T, Fast and the Furious and Street Kings were all faintly enjoyable popcorn flicks but certainly weren’t Oscar material, and always leaned towards derivative, cliched characters  – and my reservations only deepened during the film’s first 15 minutes.

The beginning of the film quickly sets up the archetypal characters familiar to anyone who has seen ever seen a cop movie; the two best friends/partners who are a bit cavalier in their attitudes towards policing, the hard-as-nails Sergeant constantly yelling at them, the nervous rookie and the grumpy older cop embittered by his years of eating dirt in uniform. I couldn’t help but think “Oh dear, here we go again.” How wrong I was.

It’s important for you to know that all the cop movie cliches are there, because after the first 15 minutes or so you’re going to forget all about them.

End of Watch quickly gets taken over by the two main characters – Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) and once they’ve got a hold on the film they never let it go. By the sheer weight of the performances these two give, the attention to detail, the emotional depth and the genuine sense of camaraderie they bring to their relationship, the film immediately transcends the awkward cliches and becomes really powerful and really, really good.

The banter between these two as they cruise the streets of South Central Los Angeles is brilliant, and when “shit gets real” (to borrow from Bad Boys) the two characters bring a real sense of friendship and even love to some really trying, violent and horrible situations. The bond between these two characters, both as partners and best friends, is the beating heart of the film and sets it apart from all the others in the cop movie genre.

End of Watch is predominantly very well written, its much more Training Day than U–571 and thank heavens for that. Ayer’s script is punchy; the dialogue is snappy while still managing to ring true coming from the characters and whilst the story does get a bit unbelievable (how much horrible stuff can happen to two uniformed police offers, I mean really?!) it never becomes so ridiculous that your brain just switches off.

End of Watch has enough substance to it that it doesn’t rely entirely on gun fights and explosions to keep viewers entertained, but violence is never far away in this film and when the AK’s do start going off it’s visceral, immediate and very real.

I can’t really think of anything that’s particularly wrong with this film; it’s well written, beautifully (if that’s the right word) acted, lovingly shot and generally nicely put together. My biggest problem with it is it’s just so, so sad. Unbearably sad, actually.

I know I should be dancing in the aisles, it’s such a rare thing to be moved and affected by a big budget Hollywood film of any kind let alone a buddy cop movie. Now a few days after seeing it I’m thinking that I should be pleasantly surprised at how raw, powerful and excellent this movie turned out to be and yet all I got when I came out of the theatre was a real sense of melancholy.The film stayed with me, haunted me really and I can’t say it’s been the most pleasant sensation.

End of Watch is a wonderful, refreshingly honest piece of cinema, one of the best films of 2012 in my opinion. This is definitely a film that everyone should see but I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy the experience.

Verdict: Four stars

Good for: Anybody who ever watched a Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys movie and secretly wished they’d been written by a sadist with clinical depression.