Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham
Cop Car begins with two runaways, about nine or ten years old named Harrison and Travis, walking through a field repeating cuss words and rationing a Slim Jim. They never state having any real plans of what to do other than to keep going forward. Then they answered the call of the film’s title and found an empty police cruiser. After approaching it the way one would approach a sleeping lion, they set out on a road trip. As the situation demanded, of all the cops to steal a vehicle from, they probably picked the worst one.
In this opening, it is hard not to notice the standout qualities of the two primary characters. They are real children, just as ignorant and afraid as one would expect them to be. Many other fictitious characters of their age are often given an unrealistic sense of bravery or insight that seems to appear out of nowhere; however, this is not the case in this film. After an afternoon of walking they actually thought they had gone fifty miles. They convinced themselves that police would ID their fingerprints off a rock they barely hit the cruiser with. They have the same excited paranoia that most children have. Swearing is the most badass thing in the world to them until they found this cop car.
However, in a movie with a scarce cast listing, Kevin Bacon’s performance reigns supreme. As Sheriff Kretzer, he has the build, resourcefulness, and instinct of a long-time veteran. Unfortunately for the rural small town where the film takes place, he also has the manipulation, the corruption, and the selfishness of a war criminal, and he even displays psychopathic tendencies. When the boys, steal the car which contains damaging evidence linking Kretzer to several crimes, he springs right into action with little shock to set him back, and less regard for those in his way.
As Cop Car evolves, it becomes a slow, cool thriller, with a joke every few minutes to lighten the tension. There were several twists in the movie, some were good and some were a letdown. One twist that I did not particularly enjoy ensured the audience that the only characters with any real redeemable qualities was the two children. Nobody else was likable. Their actions are wrong but their childlike innocence excuses the choices made. Given their well-portrayed youth and the rest of the cast, there are few characters for the audience to really grab onto. While Kevin Bacon’s character and the unnamed criminal played by Shea Whigham gave us multiple points of interest, their minimal development made their charisma drop sharply at every turn. When the focus is only on the two of them, Cop Car becomes less interesting. The last act did, however, manage to offer the most satisfaction in almost every sub-plot, and provide a sense of ambiguity as the credits roll.
Cop Car offers a great deal of built-up suspense and manages to create a great blend of themes towards one’s loss of innocence, and the bursts of violence and timidity of a crime drama. Through its very Southern environment, it creates an eerily quiet world that makes the last twenty minutes of Cop Car vastly rewarding.
*This film is currently available via RedBox.
Director: Jon Watts