2015, R, 86 min. Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 7, 2015
Authority is something to be transgressed, a control system to escape from whether you’re 10 years old or 100. That longing is at the heart of Cop Car, a sly, economical neo-noir that forsakes the shadows for the wide-open, sunlit plains of southwestern Colorado. It’s here, in this flat, desolate landscape that we meet 10-year-old best friends and apparent runaways Harrison (Wellford) and Travis (Freedson-Jackson), traversing a blank spot on the map while daring each other to say the worst swear words they can think of. Cute, no? Well, sure, right up until the moment they stumble across the titular cop car, seemingly abandoned, and decide to take it for a spin.
Stand by Me this isn’t. In the best noir tradition, the cruiser’s owner is a skeevy sheriff (Bacon, as wiry and intense as ever) who has left his car unattended while he takes care of some nasty business in the nearby woods. Soon enough, he returns to where he left his vehicle and the chase, if you can call it that, is on. The bitter scents of burnt rubber on a two-lane blacktop, angry blasts of cordite, and sweat-soaked desperation become a pall over what, initially, feels like a lark. It’s not. There will be blood.
Director Watts has a background in comedy direction, and a thin, sticky stream of exceptionally dark humor flows through the otherwise gut-churning realism of Cop Car. (He’s also been picked to direct Marvel Studios’ as-yet-untitled Spider-Man reboot.) His attention to the details of this relatively simple but borderline anxiety attack-inducing story is as real as it gets, as when Bacon’s frantic, bad guy badge-monkey attempts to steal a car using only his bootlace and impatience, or when Harrison and Travis spot a snake hole and attack it (as kids do) with their walking sticks. This is a dance macabre à trois, however. Bacon, muscled and mustachioed, and Wellford and Freedson-Jackson, vaguely amoral in pure pre-teen fashion, are bedrock real, so much so that the film, which fades out on an ambiguous ending that will no doubt leave some audience members shrieking in frustration, has a dreamy, borderline documentary feel. That’s what keeps you edging forward in your seat and choking on your popcorn. Think of it as a freeze frame from Boyhood gone haywire. And then think twice about having kids. They can be trouble.
See “I Smell (Kevin) Bacon,” Aug. 7, for an interview with the director.