2015, R, 86 mins.
2015, R, 86 mins.
Kevin Bacon as Sheriff Kretzer / James Freedson-Jackson as Travis / Hays Wellford as Harrison / Shea Whigham as Trunk Man / Camryn Manheim as Bev
Directed by Jon Watts / Written by Watts and Christopher D. Ford
COP CAR is as minimalist as they come.
story is sparse and lean (maybe a bit too sparse and lean) as it
chronicles two adventurous young boys searching for thrills that hijack a
police cruiser and then are forced to deal with the consequences of such
an act when the vehicle’s ultra corrupt cop comes looking for them.
Director Jon Watts' film thrives on not wasting too much time on exposition; he even keeps dialogue exchanges to a bare minimum in
the story and lets the character's actions dictate the narrative.
It all culminates in a positively nerve-wracking and gripping climax
that helps cement COP CAR as an uncommonly thrilling chase/road film, even
when its premise strains modest credulity.
notion of two precocious children being able to so easily steal a “cop
car” and then euphorically take it for leisurely joy rides in the
country may not seem like an authentic possibility, but Watts certainly
knows how to render his young characters with authentic strokes.
Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and his buddy Harrison (Hays
Wellford) have apparently run away from home and are exploring the nearby
countryside. After bantering
back and forth about things that every child, no doubt, has bantered
about they come across an isolated area where they find a police cruiser
that may or may not have been abandoned.
The two lads dare each other to get inside the car, which they
eventually do, and then – in a pure bit of fantasy – they begin to
imagine that they are behind the wheel and in a high speed chase.
Their fantasies soon become reality, though, when Travis finds the
keys…and within no time the boys bolster up the nerve to start the
engine and take it out for a spin.
to Travis and Harrison is the fact that, yes, the squad car does indeed
belong to an officer. To make
matters worse, the officer in question is on the very wrong side of the
law. Local Sheriff Kretzer (a
mesmerizingly amoral Kevin Bacon) has clearly been up to no good, which is
revealed in a nifty flashback sequence in the film after we are introduced
to the boys. Initially, it
appears that the sheriff is just shirking his law enforcement duties when
he parks his car, changes out of his uniform, and starts sipping some
beer. But then…he takes a
body out of the trunk, drags it to a hidden area, throws it into a hole,
and proceeds to pour quicklime all over it.
He notices that one of shoes has fallen off of the corpse, so he
proceeds to go back to his car…which is now gone, seeing as the boys
took it. Using some desperate quick wits, Kretzer takes stock of his
disastrous situation, now realizing that he must find out who stole his
vehicle and secure it before the boys discover that there is another body
in the trunk.
co-wrote COP CAR with ROBOT AND FRANK
writer Christopher Ford and the screenplay revels in the whole nature of
bad choices that spiral out of control into even worse bad choices.
They set up the particulars of the film with a stark immediacy,
which helps give it a powerful forward momentum.
There are very little extraneous elements in the film and, for the
most part, COP CAR works a majority of the time as almost a strangely
intoxicating silent film. Watts
and Ford certainly show their appreciation for past cinematic influences
in their own film; COP CAR has loving odes to childhood adventure films,
not to mention that its road movie elements harkens back to classic
grindhouse examples from the 1970’s.
Even though their film has children in it front and center, Watts
and Ford go out of their way to remind audiences that this is not a
children’s film; the longer the story progresses the more hauntingly
dark, grim, and creepy it becomes.
also intuitively knows how to drum up tension in a few positively
squirm-inducing moments featuring the boys.
There are scenes – like one involving Travis and Harrison
playing around with a bullet proof vest and an assault rifle, with one
looking down the barrel to see why it won’t shoot – that are
undeniably hard to watch considering the possibilities of what might
happen. The children
themselves are relatable, indeed, but are never truly presented as
particularly sympathetic personas. They
say and do dumb things. Their
childlike naiveté frequently gets in the way of common sense.
They are, when it boils right down to it, uncaring thieves.
The fact that COP CAR portrays these kids with realistic strokes in
terms of their mannerisms and interplay – and does so with a bleak
detachment and without a hint of melodramatic stokes –
ultimately makes the film so compulsively watchable.
course, the misdeeds of these poor misguided kids don’t compare on any
stratosphere to that of Kretzer, who takes the “crooked cop” moniker
to whole new perverse heights. You
can really sense that Bacon is having a devilish amount of fun playing his
sociopathic police officer, but it should be noted that he never plays his
role up to broad and crude caricature. Kretzer is a murderous psycho, to be fair, and he certainly
is front and center in scenes that relay what a truly despicable and
toxically untrustworthy human being he is, but he’s also a shrewd
detective that makes up for his initial categorical blunder of leaving his
car unattended by taking stock of his predicament and using his deductive skills to locate his stolen cruiser.
I loved the dichotomy of this sicko, as Bacon shows him both as a
man that makes stupid blunders, but is also someone that’s smart enough
to rescue himself from them. The
actor has rarely been this engagingly loose and fully immersed in a role:
it's a fully realized portrait of pure evil.
demonstrates his command for the material in the final sections, when the
boys are confronted by a second adult beyond Kretzer with impure motives
(which leads to a remarkably graphic and threatening monologue by him as to what he’ll do to Harrison, Travis and their families if
they rat on him) that then culminates with a brilliantly staged and painfully
suspenseful standoff between him and Kretzer on a barren highway.
It’s at this vantage point in COP CAR where the initial childhood
fantasies of the children give way to the harshly violent adult world of
reality. It’s too bad,
however, that the screenplay didn’t provide more back-story to the
characters to make the film’s thrilling conclusion have more dramatic
heft. COP CAR is an
economical movie, to be sure, but on a character development
front…it’s a bit too scattershot for its own good.
That, and the whole crazy notion that two kids would be able to so easily steal a police car and elude capture for so long really, really strains credibility, which negatively pushes COP CAR out of the world of grim reality and into the realm of pure make-believe. Nevertheless, Watts' film works, for the most part, as a mood piece that mixes black comedy and an undulating sense of unease and tension better than it should have considering its one-note premise. Maybe COP CAR is not so much about who the characters are so much as it is about what they do throughout the course of the film’s brisk 86-plus minute running time. On those levels, Watts has resourcefully crafted a fairly intoxicating film despite its flaws. And Bacon has not been so compellingly bonkers in a role in years. He takes what could have been a blatantly cartoonish villain role and instead makes it feel disturbingly real. It takes a special type of focused and determined actor to pull off such a feat.