Marvel Studios are unrivalled at spotting raw talent early and snapping it up before the rest of the world notices. From Tom Hiddleston to the Russo Brothers, the latest to be enlisted by the world’s most powerful film studio is Jon Watts, the talented director of COP CAR.
Pre-teen tearaways and best friends Travis and Harrison (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) find an abandoned police car on their latest adventure and proceed to have fun with it. Unfortunately for them, the owner of said transport is corrupt Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) who has just committed a terrible crime and is trying his utmost to cover it up. With Kretzer hot on their heels and out for their blood, Travis and Harrison’s carefree jaunt rapidly turns into very real danger.
Watts does a lot with a limited pool of characters – two kids, a dirty sheriff, a victim, a bystander and a dispatch officer – and a couple of locations in and around a backwater town on a hot summer’s day. There aren’t many locales where you could believe a cop could actually run back to town after losing his car, let alone track down the young culprits simply by asking them over the radio what local landmarks they can see.
The two young actors James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford are real finds, both naturally energetic and mischievous but also able to deal with far tougher emotions when required. Their relationship dynamic reminded me a lot of Arbor and Swifty in British gritty fable THE SELFISH GIANT – they make some terrible decisions and endanger themselves more than they could imagine, but all in the name of fun, and their unbreakable friendship. And who wouldn’t want to see Kevin Bacon playing a scumbag cop clever enough to get away with it until two sprogs ruin his plans? Who wouldn’t be terrified at the sight of a wiry, wild-eyed, moustached and sweaty Bacon in a grubby vest hunting you down? He woulda gotten away with it if it weren’t for them meddlin’ kids…
The film has a very STAND BY ME feel with heady innocence and hi-jinks taking up much of the first half of the film before everything comes to a head for a pretty harrowing finale. The boys’ walking the line between daring adventure and very real jeopardy is deftly handled throughout, as going too far in either direction would spell doom for the movie. I won’t spoil exactly where the plot goes, but it becomes quickly clear that Sheriff Kretzer is the least of Travis and Harrison’s worries.
Never underestimate the power of a film not outstaying its welcome. At under 90 minutes including credits, Cop Car is a lean and unfussy film that just gets on with telling the story it wants to, embellishes nothing (well, the finale is slightly overwrought) and keeps an eye on the clock so nothing ever drags.
Cop Car is appropriately enough a great ride. It’s tense and well-performed, funny and stylish in a bare essentials kind of way. I’d highly recommend it. With such a vibrant and confident film under his belt, you can’t fear too much for Watts having the challenge of bringing Spider-Man out to play with the Avengers. Then again, Marc Webb was a promising independent director before the Wall Crawler came a’ calling… SSP