Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Hays Wellford, James Freedson-Jackson
Spoilers Within: No
Film 8 – #23 in ‘The Hard Drive Randomiser’
Not long after finishing Jon Watts’ Cop Car, I turned TV channels to be greeted with Kevin Bacon’s latest comedically insipid ‘EE’ advert, and all goodwill toward the actor just gained during his turn as Sheriff Kretzer was crushed. It’s frustrating how – on the silver screen (or indeed, home viewing) – Bacon can often be an entertaining and watchable star, but on the small screen (or, television as standard) he’s borderline unwatchable, The Following very much included. If only he could be as good as he is in Cop Car, in which he plays a mysterious sheriff with a dark, violent secret.
The opening act is one of the strongest I’ve seen in a while: two youngsters, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are on the lam, throwing curse words into the empty pastures as they ration their sweets for long enough to make their parents worry where they’ve run to, when they happen on the titular cop car parked in a small clearing. The unspoken worry conveyed by the duo immediately reflect the audience’s thoughts: why is the police car abandoned? where is the cop? what will happen if they get caught? These answers are given without much delay, and are revealed in a pleasingly crafty way that everything that follows these revelations feels well earned. The two boys’ worries that a pebble thrown at the car could place their fingerprints at the scene was a great character moment, then followed by fantasising what they could do with the car when they realise they’re in the clear. This first act is so much fun to watch that it’s almost a shame that the rest of the film wasn’t just the two of them messing around in fields with youthful enthusiasm.
Luckily, it doesn’t lose steam once the mystery is revealed, but rather picks up when Bacon’s sheriff arrives on the scene. The way the character is introduced is nothing short of brilliant, jumping back in time to before the car was stolen in a well -framed and -paced eureka moment. Bacon’s swift transformation from calm determination to panicked frenzy is great to watch and shows how good he can be in a small leading role. Once another unsuspected moment is revealed, the film becomes uneven and messy, resolving in a quickly violent and tonally different revenge thriller that, while not entirely unwelcome, just can’t match the preceding hour for confident thrills and character moments. In any other cat-and-mouse thriller, it tonal inconsistency might not have been a problem, but because the first hour is so much fun it can’t help but diminish what would have been a much stronger whole.
Cop Car is a lean, entertaining thriller with strong B-movie sensibilities that’s only slightly harmed by its denouement, but it’s very much worth a watch for the chilling performances, the fantastic opening act(s) and the slowly revealing secrets that ratchet the tension until it explodes.