EIFF 2015 – Cop Car
Jon Watts’ Cop Car focuses on two 10 year old boys who take a seemingly abandoned cop car for a joy ride and find themselves in a whole heap of trouble as a result.
The film opens with the two boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) wandering through a field trading knowledge of curse words and generally shooting the breeze in the way that kids do. It is established that they have run away from home for…some reason and are out to make their own mark on the world.
When they find an abandoned cop car in the nearby woods their luck changes and they immediately take it for a joy ride. The car serves as sort of a metaphor for their own independence. It’s fun and liberating but also the cause of some significant problems that they face.
Both kids do an excellent job here. It really helps that the dialogue feels natural and flows as if kids are really saying it. So many movie kids are either written with wisdom beyond their years on one end or as too stupid on the other. In this film they seem innocent and clueless in all the right ways. The performances of the two kids are absolutely spot on in putting that across and I never felt that anything they did was in any way inauthentic.
As a double act they take on pretty standard roles. Travis is the brave one who takes the lead on everything and Harris is the more timid and sensitive one who does what he’s told but shows some inner strength that nobody knew he had by the end. This is handled so well that it doesn’t feel at all forced. These are typical roles in young friendships as well so it all works.
Future Spider-Man helmer Jon Watts clearly works well with young actors as evidenced here which definitely bodes well for a more youthful Spider-Man film. Given my interests I couldn’t let this review pass without a reference to Spider-Man in some way.
Bacon delivers one of the best performances I’ve seen him give in a long time. Granted my recent exposure to him has been limited to those awful EE adverts but I’m glad to see that those haven’t affected my ability to tolerate him. It’s nice to be reminded just how good an actor he can be. His character is constantly unsettling but I found myself rooting for him to get his car back for some reason. It’s really engaging to see him manipulate the situation to his own ends and the sense of resourcefulness to his character is really well established.
The film is a little thin on plot but I get the feeling that is entirely the point. We know that the kids are running away but we never really find out why for instance. There’s a hint that there is maybe some parental abuse involved but the narrative never dwells on it. It could just be that they felt like running away so just decided to do it.
Similarly we find out that Sheriff Kretzer kills people and dumps the bodies but the film never tells us why. The situation is almost seen from the perspective of the kids who won’t have an awareness of the details of the situation but cuts to other characters to lift it out of the limited outlook. The details of the situation aren’t important and the mystery aspect injects a sense of comedy into the film.
There are some genuinely memorable scenes throughout. Seeing the kids play with the guns they find in the back seat is both hilarious and unsettling. There’s a real sense of foreboding about them as they try to test the effectiveness of a bullet proof vest with live ammunition. Be thankful for the safety that they don’t know how to turn off is all I can say. Using the childlike innocence for both comedy value as well as establishing ignorance to the obvious -to adults- danger of the situation is a stroke of genius.
Towards the end the film takes a dark turn when they find a man (Shea Whigham) in the trunk of the car who tries to convince the kids that he’s a good guy and the sheriff is a bad guy. The kids go with their gut and set him loose which naturally proves to be a bad idea. Not that they are any better off with Kretzer but setting the man free is definitely a bad choice.
At such a late point in the film the clear tonal shift is pretty jarring but it’s really effective at ramping up the tension and showing the audience just how much trouble the kids have got themselves into. What was once an innocent adventure quickly devolves into a fight for survival and as a transition it works perfectly.
I found the ending to be a little abrupt. It’s almost as if the people making it had no real idea how to bring this to a close so the whole thing just stops. It almost works given how it fits into the structure of the film but it does feel a little out of place. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment but I couldn’t help noticing it.
This is definitely worth recommending as it never stops being engaging. Authentic performances of the two kids as well as a really impressive turn from Kevin Bacon make for a watchable cast. The dark comedy works really well and the whole thing is just off the wall and entertaining.