Our reviewer in…Maysa Moncao has just seen the police thriller Cop Car starring Kevin Bacon and looks at what makes a ‘cop’ film.
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After a screening at Sundance Festival at the beginning of this year, Cop Car has now been launched in the USA. When I received the invitation for the preview in New York, I took a glance at the trailer in order to have some idea why Kevin Bacon would be involved in a project where he plays a cop.
The trailer points out the plot: Kevin Bacon (Mystic River) stars in Jon Watts’ delightful throwback thriller. Two good-natured but rebellious young boys (Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson) stumble across an abandoned cop car hidden in a secluded glade and they decide to take it for a quick joyride. Their bad decision unleashes the ire of the county sheriff (Kevin Bacon) and leads to brutal consequences.
Well, then, it is the same old steryotype of cops in the movies. They are stupid. Yes, cops are often stupid characters. And why? Because characters are written by creative scriptwriters that want you to be on the side of the rebellious characters. Writers want you to solve the puzzle, find the criminals, before the police do.
Take for instance two marvellous examples: Frances McDormand as the pregnant police officer in Fargo. The criminals (both kidnappers and the husband) in Coen Brothers’ 1996 film are stupid countryside men, weird psychos in North Dakota. And suddenly a very fat slow policewoman appears to put some order onto this madness. Eventually she will succeed, but not because of her logical reasoning. Everything is an outcome of chance (and feminine intuition).
The other examples I ‘d like you to remember are Hitchcock’s masterpieces Dial ‘M’ for Murder and Blackmail. As seen by Hitchcock’s camera the police aren’t scared. Rather they are solid and dull professionals who regard their occasionally exciting activities as all in a day’s work. Hitchcock emphasizes this attitude in Blackmail with careful planned displays of cops in the men’s room, washing up and chatting about nothing at all. Now, think well, and you will remember at least a dozen scenes like that in the cinema and in CSI type programmes.
Nota bene: Cops are not agents. Agents are James Bond or Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible – of which a new installment is out on general release this Thursday) or Jason Bourne (Matt Damon’s character in the Bourne… series). Agents are prodigious and uniquely clever men who have to decypher unscrupulous plans to destroy the world and mankind. Agents are demi-gods. Achilles was murdered by a naive and stupid Paris in Troy, but Bond, Hunt and Bourne will live for as long as the studios continue aiming for your pennies.
More recently some cops are seen as corrupted. You can think of 21 Grams by Alejandro González Iñárritu or Elite Squad by Jose Padilha. But that is another story. Here, films are closer to documentaries and further from fiction. Cops are contaminated by the environment; they are almost as powerless as the creatures they chase. They probably couldn’t behave differently.
So Cop Car is intentionally reviving a type of narrative where you would support the young and rebellious kids in the chase, against and old and vicious sheriff. Here is youth and counterculture against establishment.
I bet you’d choose to be reckless young, wouldn’t you?
USA, FICTION, 2015, 86 MIN
DIRECTOR: JON WATTS
WITH KEVIN BACON, SHEA WHIGHAM, HAYS WELFORD, JAMES FREEDSON-JACKSON
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER: Watts has directed and produced Clown (2014). He directed commercials for production company Park Pictures.