|'A gripping coming-of-age tale stealthily masquerading as a crime thriller'.|
Going straight to home media release in the UK and garnering a box office that barely scraped six figures in the US, Cop Car unfairly feels only a step or two away from the kind of film that would have been snapped up by an indie distributor with more heft than the still comparatively young and unestablished Focus World. Stick a hot property like Matthew McConaughey in the lead or a rising star such as Jeff Nichols in the director's chair and it's not hard to imagine, with the increased notoriety that would bring, that Cop Car could have bothered a great many "Best of 2015" lists last December.
Instead we have a perennial underachiever (and EE spokesperson) starring and a relative unknown directing in Kevin Bacon and Jon Watts respectively. Nothing all that exciting on paper but, like I said before, judging the film by its star power is unfair. Bacon's performance as decidedly dodgy small-town lawman Sheriff Kretzer is by turns creepy, intense and perplexing. The character's wordless introductory scene demonstrates superbly why Bacon has been such an enduring and reliable presence throughout his thirty-year-plus career, even if he's never quite cracked leading man status.
Watts, meanwhile, demonstrates a palpable talent for creating tense, authentic cinema. Cop Car transcends its bare-bones-budget through the director knowing exactly what to do with what he has. With a main cast you can count on one hand - two of whom are unknown child actors - Watts constructs a gripping coming-of-age tale stealthily masquerading as a crime thriller.
After runaways Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are introduced through the opening act, the director leads us to believe that the two boys are merely unwitting young participants in a grimy grown-up story. But, by the time Watts has led us willingly to his film's perhaps unexpected ending, our viewpoint has been flipped once again, placing the young friends firmly at Cop Car's centre. It's clever, confident storytelling that isn't afraid to leave at least some of the narrative purposefully murky and open to interpretation.
At the time of writing, Watts' next scheduled project is the third attempt to bring Spider-Man to the big screen via the MCU, reportedly after Marvel execs were impressed by Cop Car at Sundance last year. Let's just hope he escapes the undesirable fate of his fellow indie film-makers turned blockbuster directors Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank, who went from the impressive Monsters and Chronicle to the underwhelming Godzilla and Fantastic Four respectively. Hopefully, Watts will succeed in putting his creative stamp on Marvel's friendly neighbourhood arachnid-themed superhero in a way Edwards and Trank weren't able - or perhaps allowed - to achieve.