Cop Car — 7/10

COP CAR (2015, Jon Watts)

Clean, simple, and effective, COP CAR is the kind of old school programmer that used to show up more often in theaters, but is now relegated to occasional indie and day-and-date VOD release. Still, it’s the kind of intelligent mini-thriller that BLUE RUIN wanted to be: it’s memorable and engrossing, if imperfect nonetheless.

The kids at the center don’t really come to life in the ways the best child actors can — often they’re overly directed and a little stiff on camera. Their dialogue, which attempts to both unite them as realistic friends with common boys-will-be-boys banter and separate them into the distinct categories of alpha and subordinate, is forced and lacks wit. But once Kevin Bacon (riveting in his best performance since DEATH SENTENCE) goes on the warpath, the film shifts into a better gear. And even the early establishing scenes, though clumsy, benefit from gorgeous cinematography. Not a surprise when you look at the pedigree: Lance Acord (veteran DP for Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola) is an executive producer, and the two credited DPs are Matthew J. Lloyd (who shot the entire first season of Netflix’s beautifully dark series “Daredevil”) and Larkin Seiple (a music video cinematographer who did the incredible “Turn Down For What“).

But what really shines in the second half is the script’s impressive economy — I think only five faces are ever on camera: the boys, Bacon, Shea Whigham (perhaps my favorite “That Guy!” in movies and TV today), and Camryn Manheim. Everyone else you either see from the neck down, from behind, or just hear over the radio (like Bacon’s wife Kyra Sedgwick, who plays the police dispatcher). And only using those five characters, Watts tells you just enough to follow the narrative but not too much as to overcomplicate things and stuff the story with exposition. Everything planted in the first act (cows, driving speed, coat pockets, etc.) pays off in the third, and there’s a nice little subtext about gun control. Like the best short stories, Watts doesn’t bite off more than he can chew — he lets Kevin Bacon do all the chewing.

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