“Boys, I know you can hear me. You are in a whole lot of trouble.”
Cop Car is a little movie about little kids done in the most minimalist of fashions. Everything single piece is small. Whether that matters or not could be up for debate, but its greatest strength, perhaps because of the narrowed in focus, is its staging. No unnecessary details weasel their way in. The characters are always where they should be. The film has an excellent filter, made in a method that gives laughs and dramatic showdowns all with, for the most part, a scoped and lasered precision. And although it unravels in its last act, playing out in ways unjustified by what came before, it’s still a fascinating watch. If John Hughes made a shootout Western, Cop Car would be it. Or at least within sight.
Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are two runaway youngsters. No older than 12. They each have a motive and a reasoning for their disappearance, and this tightly wound story unfolds neatly, edging out the creases in the holes of character details at just the right moments. We get the bare minimum and it is enough. The story services these young actors, and up until the embellished end, allows them to really act their age. To walk around with stick canes, repeat curse words after each other, never swaying from the exaggerated logic of children. The two play follow the leader, with Harrison being the more reserved and cautious one compared to Travis’ wild child, up for anything persona. So when they find a seemingly abandoned Sherrif’s car in the middle of nowhere, it’s within reason that they’d snoop around. Their fantasy becomes a reality through one of film’s greatest clichés: keys tucked up in the visor. It’s common for movies to show the exploratory nature of adolescence with bicycles; Cop Car ups the ante with a siren, flashing lights, and the unpopulated roads of small-town Colorado. “This is our cop car!,” they yell, blindly swerving left to right like a reckless drunk.
Sherrif Ketzer (Kevin Bacon) is the rightful owner of the vehicle. For every second he’s on-screen in this faster-than-a-speeding-bullet of a movie, clocking in at a whopping 86 minutes, the Sherrif plays damage control. He’s crooked, as you might have guessed, wielding a power easily gained with few people around to protest. Bacon has always had a strong presence, and the older he has gotten, the more he has taken advantage of employing it in bad guy scenarios. He manages to fill the screen with his scrawny frame in ways few can. Then there are Freedson-Jackson and Wellford, who are basins of clay molded by director Jon Watts. Neither are head-turning nor are they off-putting; like most of the film, they are as they need to be. Characters written with shallow and wading waters are impossible to fully immerse oneself into. But because it is so well made, with tremendous sound mixing and some excellent photography, only being knee-deep doesn’t feel so bad when we’re looking at such a lush landscape.
Cop Car really feels like an amalgamation of other movies, a bit taken her and a part borrowed there, somehow coming together cohesively. We get the Thelma & Louise outlaw vibe. The desolate worldview of a Coen Brother’s feature, most like No Country for Old Men. The escapism of Stand By Me. Jon Watts really pieces it all together. Many people will see this movie to try to understand why this little Indie director was hand-picked to reboot the Spiderman series yet again. Personally, I believe it’s because of the dry humor he utilizes, well-known territory for the webslinger. Watts has so many brief and happenstance moments here that have laughs built-in, but they only elicit the proper response because he knows how to handle them. Not too long, but never too short. And so, even with an ending disingenuous to rest of the storyworld and character arcs, inexplicably narrowing in its focus when the story is anything but that, Cop Car is worthy of the pursuit.
“We’ll just tell them we’re cops.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5