As the title suggests, Jon Watts’s “Cop Car” reduces narrative to fundamentals: the title vehicle, a cop, two kids, a barren, indifferent universe represented by a sprawling prairie, and a simple premise that unfolds as the narrative requires. If only all films had such clarity of purpose. With his sense of black humor and with a coldly calculating view of a world determined by intransigent laws of physics, Watts recalls the Coen brothers of “Blood Simple.”
And — it’s a kids’ movie. Two boys — Travis (James Freedson-Jackson), who seems the bolder of the two, and the more fragile-seeming Harrison (Hays Wellford) — stride side-by-side across a Colorado flatland practicing swear words. Where are they going and why? It doesn’t matter much; it’s enough to know that like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer they are looking for adventure. Make-believe probably, but maybe something real.
They get lucky when they come across the title vehicle. To their giddy delight they find that a door is unlocked, the keys are in it, and, as they eventually discover, much more besides. After much daring and double daring they’re tooling down the highway, lights flashing.
A cut is made, and it looks like they’re returning the car to the place they found it. In fact, the scene is a flashback. Sheriff Kretzer (a sordidly endearing Kevin Bacon, with a mustache like that of a weaselly Sam Elliott) pulls up, gets out, engages in some unofficial-looking activity and returns to find the cop car gone.
With some minor but ingenious detours, that’s the premise, and Watts works out the permutations with a diabolical logic and a point of view that embrace the kids’ innocence and acknowledge the rules of an unbeatable game that hard men are foolish enough to challenge. His dialogue and cinematic language are basic — simple switches from extreme long shots that evoke menace, melancholy, or absurdity, to close-ups of faces determined to prevail against the whims of God. Or in this case, the filmmaker.
★ ★ ★ ½
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by Watts and
Christopher D. Ford
Starring: Kevin Bacon,
Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham
At: Coolidge Corner, suburbs
Running time: 86 minutes
Rated: R (for language, violence, and brief drug use)
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