Cop Car (2015)

Directed by Jon Watts

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In Cop Car two ten year-old runaways stumble upon a cop car somewhere in the woods.  They hop in, fantasizing their way through a joy ride.  Then they find the car keys and after some brief debate jump into an actual joyride.

The cop is Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), and for reasons unknown he has two bodies in the car’s trunk.  One of them is alive, and he will remain in the trunk as Chekov’s gun while Kretzer takes the other out to be buried.

Later the boys will hear the unexpected thumping from inside the trunk where the beaten, petrified man (Shea Whigham) pleads for his life.  The boys let him out, holding guns they don’t know how to use outstretched in case he’s a “bad guy.”  When they determine he’s not, they free him, and the man turns the guns on them and orders them to lead Sheriff Kretzer to their location.

This all leads to a thrilling, tense action sequence with as much silence and tension as some of the best moments of Breaking Bad.  Set out in the flat lands of perhaps a Texas countryside, the location (and constant vista shots) often harkens back to that famous show.

The poster for Cop Car suggests this is a self-serious thriller, but it instead becomes something more like a Coen Brothers’ crime caper, complete with the dry comedy of movies like Fargo and A Serious Man.

The Kevin Bacon character is not the sinister force we might first think, but rather a bumbling, screwed up, drug-addicted klutz.  We never know who the bodies in his trunk are, and judging by his own desperation and the trunk man’s eagerness to get back at him, well it suggests that the sheriff just has a few screws loose but is not some kind of criminal mastermind.

Even the Whigham character resembles Wile E. Coyote trying to track down the Road Runner.  When we see him prepare for an eventual shootout, he seems more nervous and frenetic then driven by a deep need for revenge.  His hastily-made plan to lie in wait for the Sheriff feels like a one-man comedy show, at least until the Sheriff shows up, and the tension skyrockets.

Cop Car is fun because it doesn’t bother to explain any of this backstory.  We don’t need to know what kind of corrupt cop Kretzer is or the degree to which the man in the trunk deserves (or doesn’t) his fate.  You see the visuals and you get the idea.  This is someone else’s story, and the boys just happen to have stumbled into it.

The film is a cross between a crime thriller and a coming of age story.  The boys, who open the film, have the same grand vision for themselves as characters in a Terrence Malick film or the simple-minded idea of living like the two siblings in David Lowery’s St. Nick.  They are runaways, with all the naive idealism that assumes, and in their friendship and bickering we might see a bit of ourselves.

When they first must deal with the consequences of stealing a sheriff’s vehicle the movie turns into a bit of a thriller, but it never betrays its origins.  That is to say that these wide-eyed, naive children remain that way for the duration of the film, rather than turning into sudden action heroes when the plot might dictate it.

Up Next: Crazy Heart (2009), Beetlejuice (1988), Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

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