“Cop Car.” A first-rate thriller with a dense atmosphere. A true feast.

The role of Sheriff Kretzer is one of Kevin Bacon’s most remarkable achievements.

Lukasz Budnik

20 December 2023

I have never been able to understand how someone can only watch artistic cinema or exclusively low-budget action films. Must a marathon of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors interspersed with brawls featuring Cynthia Rothrock be like eating pickles with chocolate? I believe not, and “Cop Car” is the best evidence of this because it combines these two worlds under one title.

The plot of Jon Watts’ film can be summarized in one sentence – two bored boys steal a cop car, and the sheriff is determined to get it back at any cost. The minimalistic content corresponds to the economical form. The first shots depict the typical American town, deserted streets, yards, fields, and a sky filling almost half of the frame.

Who would have thought that the author of “Clown” has such a keen eye? Over the next minutes, Travis and Harrison blend into this distant perspective. They wander aimlessly, seeking any form of entertainment and engaging in conversations that validate them as young rebels. After fifteen minutes, one could believe that this is one of many melancholic coming-of-age stories about discovering one’s identity and not being understood by adults. Then enters Kevin Bacon. I won’t attempt an objective opinion on his acting; this guy has amazed me with his performances for years, and even when portraying an unequivocally positive character, something in his appearance prevents suspicions that he might soon wake up and eliminate the rest of the cast (on or off camera). He may have had a few minor slips in his career, but compared to Johnny Depp or Robert De Niro, he can boast a consistent and impressive body of work spanning over three decades.

The role of Sheriff Kretzer is one of Kevin Bacon’s most remarkable achievements.

At first glance, we have a typical cop from B-movies. He buries someone’s body, keeps drugs at home, deceives colleagues, and when he speaks to children with a friendly tone, he seems to calculate where to stab them. Such characters usually have everything under control; the local population bows to them, and shopkeepers pay substantial tributes.

Fortunately, Bacon’s character turns out not to be one of them because the world around him is not a modernized Wild West but the everyday life of each of us, where even the toughest can’t feel invincible. Kretzer nervously seeks a solution to a difficult situation, constantly teetering on the brink of failure. He is not an emotionless robot following the steps of a plan. With every minute, he descends into greater madness, like any ordinary person whose future is seriously threatened. I felt this tension; Bacon not only generated it on set but also instilled it in the audience through the screen.

The cast includes only a few people, including teenagers with no film experience. Children often play actors playing characters instead of immersing themselves directly in the role. However, James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford break this rule. It’s easy to believe that they are best friends even off-screen. They are not just a pinch of sugar in the bitter world of adults; they build tension with no less success than Maestro Bacon, and their gunplay generates more tension than the forest pursuits of a masked killer in a typical slasher.

“Cop Car” is both a spacious landscape of a town somewhere at the end of the world and a first-rate thriller with a dense atmosphere, leaving many questions unanswered. It’s not one of those movies that serves an extensive retrospective just before the credits to explain the intricacies of the entire plot and rob the viewer of their own interpretation. Jon Watts serves a feast for both the aesthetic sense and the atavistic need for entertainment. It resonates with me from the first to the last second.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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