2015 - 86 minutes
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jon Watts, Christopher D. Ford
Starring: Kevin Bacon,
James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Shea Whigham, Camryn Manheim
Cop Car co-writer/director Jon Watts has been tapped to direct the next Spider-Man redo, and if he’s allowed the opportunity to create suspense in the Marvel Universe the way he does here, Spidey would be well-served.
Watts concisely sets up a simple, desperate situation where it’s apparent from the beginning that no one involved will be allowed to get away clean. He and co-scribe Christopher D. Ford give us all of the information we need to know to create suspense without getting convoluted or unnecessarily specific with the plotting and motivations.
Tween friends Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are running away from home, rationing a Slim Jim and reciting curse words. In the middle of nowhere they come upon a seemingly abandoned sheriff’s cruiser. Discovering the keys, the boys take off on a joy ride through empty fields and onto the highway, fulfilling an ultimate roleplaying fantasy. Sherriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) returns to the scene of the theft after taking care of some shady business and frantically races to receive the titular vehicle. As the dangers for the boys deepen – finding and playing with a cache of weapons and finding a man in the trunk (Shea Whigham), the stakes for the sheriff retrieving the car grow exponentially.
Though Cop Car doesn’t provide many details on its characters, they feel fleshed out and identifiable. Refreshingly, the boys speak like kids and act extremely foolishly, as kids tend to do. They aren’t precocious movie kids with an advanced vocabulary and advanced maturity caused by whatever hardships they are experiencing at home. They’re kids who think they survive indefinitely with small bites of a Slim Jim and compare their cop car driving to a game of “Mario Kart.”
As the kids get lost in their adventure and imagination, the car takes them further away from whatever their real world issues are, as the physical vehicle gets further and further away from Kretzer’s grasp. He buys time by lying to his dispatcher and trying to tie up the loose ends of whatever devious deal went bad. We’re spared the intricacies, but catch a glimpse of drug and money. The details don’t matter – it’s all about the desperation for all involved.
Long stretches of quiet and intense looks from the actors deepen the apprehension. Bacon subtly wears the anxiety on his face, while Whigham wears it obviously with dried, blackened blood splashed across his nose and eyes. The adversaries combine the griminess of the situation with some well-timed dark humor that is very Coen-esque. When it’s time for things to get dark, however, they get inky black when comeuppance enters the picture. Even explanations of consequences are absolutely chilling, as discussed in the speech Whigham’s character gives to the boys.
There are times when Watts lets Cop Car slow down a tad too much, the stillness reaching the point of over-calculated deliberation, and the film feels a bit longer than its 86 minutes. You only need so many shots of lonely highways, empty fields, and a solitary windmill spinning in the breeze.
Also appearing extraneous at first is a witness played by Camryn Manheim, who sees the boys’ joyriding. She refuses to let her suspicions go and gets caught up in the fray in a seemingly artificial attempt to up the danger level. But when the slow burn finally pays off, we see that anyone who gets tangled in a web of wrongdoing – be they the crooked evildoers, the naïve, or the good Samaritans – faces potential danger. Given the lengthy buildup, the fates of all involved ring true; even if the very end of Cop Car feels like a bit of a cop out.