Directed by Jon Watts
Starring James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Kevin Bacon
Two young runaways, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and and Harrison (Hays Wellford) stumble across a seemingly abandoned police car, tucked away in a grove of trees on the prairies of Nowhere, Middle America. Being young, curious and blissfully ignorant of the notion of consequences, they wind up stealing the thing. This turns out to be a mistake, as the vehicle belongs to coke-snortin’, body-dumpin’ Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), and he does not take such a transgression lightly – especially since there’s a body still in the trunk. Cue the chase music.
Taut, sharp and economical like a haiku, Cop Car feels like the sort of mean-spirited, tightly plotted modern noir that John Dahl used to make. We’re dropped right into the plot almost immediately and we’re only given enough information for the action to make sense. Travis and Harrison’s motives for running away is never explored – it’s enough to know that they’re on the lam. Likewise, the exact nature of Kretzer’s criminal activities remains opaque – we just know he’s a bad motor scooter.
The script by Christopher Ward and director Jon Watts is lean and smart, especially when it comes to the characterisation of the three main characters. One thing that really works is that Travis and Harrison are obviously, explicitly children, maybe 10 years old, not wise-ass miniature adults. Their choices reflect a child’s understanding of the world, which makes the proceedings all the more tense when we know what kind of guy is after them.
Bacon’s Ketzler is a great creation: a charismatic small town lawman with some very bad habits and a kind of raw native cunning that lets him keep a lot of plates precariously spinning. It’s a lot of fun watching him try and keep the theft of his cruiser under wraps while he tracks down the two boys, and Bacon’s manic, gleeful performance makes the antagonist strangely sympathetic.
Jon Watts scored the Spider-Man reboot directing gig largely off the strength of this flick* and it’s not hard to see why (apart from a general befuddlement at the current practice of throwing massive budgets and tentpole properties at indie filmmakers). It’s a deft, tense, hugely enjoyable thriller and absolutely worth seeking out.
*That and the Spidey tattoo he got when he was lobbying for the gig.