snapshot: Cop Car (2015)

US / 88 minutes / color / Audax, Dark Arts, Park, End Cue, Expedition, Focus World Dir: Jon Watts Pr: Cody Ryder, Alicia Van Couvering, Sam Bisbee, Andrew Kortschak, Jon Watts Scr: Jon Watts, Christopher Ford Cine: Matthew J. Lloyd, Larkin Seiple Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham, Kyra Sedgwick (voice).

A movie the Coen Brothers might have made if they didn’t have much of a budget, an enjoyable dark comedy—very dark, in places—set somewhere in flyover country where cattle outnumber people.

Two ten-year-old boys, Harrison (Wellford) and the more outgoing Travis (Freedson-Jackson), have just this morning run away from home and are on the verge of getting bored with freedom when they come across what appears to be an abandoned police car, sitting in a copse in the middle of nowhere. Naturally they pile in and drive off.

Hays Wellford as Harrison.

James Freedson-Jackson as Travis.

What they don’t realize is that its driver, Sheriff Kretzer (Bacon), has only stepped out for a while to bury a body. Oh, and there’s another body in the trunk, only in this case the Man (Whigham) is bloodied but still alive.

And naturally the sheriff, who’s up to his nostrils in the drug trade, wants his car and his guns and his captive back. Naturally the Man in the trunk wants to escape and shoot the evil sheriff before the evil sheriff gets another chance to shoot him. And naturally all the boys want to do is keep on having fun.

Kevin Bacon as Sheriff Kretzer.

Camryn Manheim plays Bev, a middle-aged woman who spots the boys driving the cop car and is incensed when, reporting it to the local PD, she’s regarded as delusional. Because of her wrath, she ends up playing a bigger part in the plot than you’d at first expect. Kyra Sedgwick voices the police dispatcher.

Camryn Manheim as Bev.

Kyra Sedgwick is also, of course, Mrs. Kevin Bacon, and studying some of the surnames in the credits one gets the impression the movie was something of a family affair. It’s none the worse for that—in fact, one could argue that it benefits from a self-imposed spareness, a recognition of its limitations. Instead of a sprawling cast and a riot of action scenes, everything’s kept very tightly focused on the five principals, and the tension arises from the script, the pacing—a slow build-up leads to a climactic sequence so long prolonged that by its end you may actually get too close to the edge of your seat for safety—and the near-perfect balance that’s maintained between humor and chills.

Shea Whigham as the Man.

And let’s not forget the spectacular cinematography. Lloyd and Seiple conjure a majestic beauty from a landscape that’s by and large flat and austere.

Cop Car probably isn’t for everybody—it lacks the complexities of yer standard neonoir and it eschews the loud noises of the Die Hard school of thrillers—but it’s a finely put together piece that connoisseurs of rural noir may adore.

12 thoughts on “snapshot: Cop Car (2015)

  1. You had me at the mention of the Coen Brothers! Right, I’m off to see if my DVD rental service has a copy of this on their list. Cheers, John – this sounds like another great find.

  2. I remember the trailer coming out and thinking it looked like it could be a good, tight, small cast imposed on a central idea that never got too big for itself, but at the same time — given, y’know, Hollywood — how that ight just be a deliberately misleading impression from the trailer. I’m really pleased to learn that the impression is borne out in the film; I’ll confess it had slipped from my memory, but I’ll try to track it down in the months ahead. We need more smalltown noirish tight-focus thrillers. The last one I remember seeing which was even vaguely interesting or restrained was American Perfekt with Amanda Plummer and David Thewlis, and I have a feeling that might have been as far back as 1998 or thereabouts..

    • I’m trying to include a string of these modestly budgeted rural/small-town neonoirs here because I find them generally rewarding. You may recall me wittering about Small Town Murder Songs (2010) back in August.

      The movie doesn’t read like a Hollywood production at all; it feels like an indie, and there are lots of intimations in the credits that this is likely so. That said, it attracted a fair measure of attention/success, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it. I hope you enjoy it when you do!

  3. Thanks for the tip on this one. Sounds like movie making of old – Black & White B pictures where small budgets and less time, but in the hands of talented people produced many quality films, qualities that included staying with the characters and the story and not piling on a lot of crap that most of us have been burned out on for years.

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