Car PCE, Where Are You?
At four minutes less than one-and-a-half hours, director/co-writer/-producer Jon Watts’s Cop Car comes across as what is fashionably baptized “minimalist.” Set in minimal-featured made-up Quinlan County, it is suspenseful and violent.
Curiously, the violence appears not all that visually pervasive or bloody when compared with the color-riot gore splashed every which way in modern mayhem movies. Despite an army’s, or police force’s, worth of firepower, there are really only a few staccato bursts -- more scary, in fact, are the several times when inexperience keeps the weapons from being fired. Two beatings and one death occur before the thing starts, but, given the limited number of people out here in the Colorado boonies in the first place and actual characters in this story anyway, the death quotient is admittedly high: three of five plus a last-minute impending fourth. That is, minimalist in total body count but maximalist in offing sixty to eighty percent of available cast.
One and more reviewers found the central runaway ten-year-olds so annoying that they could not root for them. As screen kids go, however, though maybe more daring, Travis and timid but easily goaded Harrison (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) are in fact believable, bold, in some trouble at school and home, at once daredevil and skittish, not yet old enough but already exploring dirty words, and ultimately loyal.
A Norman Rockwell bucolic place of a couple of trees beside a stream furnishes a neat opening coup of two parallel takes, the latter of them a slight flashback on the other. Brown and gold, empty but more equipped than at first sight, beer bottle on the hood and keys in sight, a police cruiser sits there, driver’s door unlocked, an irresistible temptation into which, probable speed joyriders within a few short years, the boys naturally fall. Uncertainly and bumpily, they drive off.
Back a few minutes to Sheriff Mitch Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), who parks the police car there, drinks some brew, removes his uniform shirt and then a plasticuffed body from the trunk which he closes before dragging the corpse to and into a hole or well, sprinkles quicklime on top and covers it all. And returns to find his vehicle disappeared.
The boys are excited and showing off and experimenting with the doodads and gadgets as they drive the cop car across fields and down the wrong side of State Route 110; the officer is frantic to locate it, find out what they may have found out, and hide the whole business from dispatcher Miranda. These two simple strands push the rest of the crisp movie, reminiscent not so much of the advertised Coens’ work as of The Night of the Hunter, in which the pursuer-hunter tries unctuous sweet talk to children to mask his terrible badness and of The Hitcher in its road-reduced stage. This one is entirely unrelieved by the Minnesota brothers’ irony or humor, thus allowing for no letup in tension, not even up to and including the surprise revelation of final seconds.
There is a single unnecessary step, though of the briefest and not awkwardly done. This implied backstory, a drug deal gone bad or simple greed, is not an imperfection, but the whole would have been all the better for no explanation whatever, just the fact and no reason offered for it. Beyond that, there is no fat on this lean thriller, with even impatient seconds at a Santa Fe Avenue stoplight contributing.
(Released by Focus World and rated "R" for language, violence and brief drug use.)