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.