Stealing Viewers

There are seven people integral to Cop Car. Only a handful more are there for background filler. It’s a small film with striking visual strength and taut discipline over its story – that of two kids who steal a sheriff’s car only to be wound up in an unseen deal gone wrong.

Jon Watts directs, pulling expressive performances from his limited cast. Nothing is wasted. Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson act beyond their years (even gravelly voiced, mustached Kevin Bacon is overtaken by their abilities) as young runaways whose unchecked decision making slowly unravels into this tense, well wound thriller.

Cop Car respects film intellect. Flashes of information and unspoken actions are freed from exposition. Thing happen. Cop Car has the foresight to let them, freely, without interrupting streaks of dialog. Script work is meticulously manicured – nothing feels as if it exists for the audience. A discordant, shivering score will act as the only unnatural guidance.

… an exemplary example of how great filmmakers control their story.

This is not a film of grandiose twists or surprises; Cop Car adores tension so that’s what Cop Car builds. What begins with two kids walking in open fields eventually clamps down into the inescapable back seat of the car, a grand visual representation of how the film locks itself down on viewers and an exemplary example of how great filmmakers control their story.

In the second half, Cop Car lets loose the children who discover a back seat stuffed with police items, mostly guns. They point weapons at one another, toward the camera, even throw them when loaded. Images are terrifying for their possibilities and resonate in any country with nonchalant firearm laws. It’s disconcerting and an immense pocket of tension which is only relieved in closing moments. They’re not fun moments either – the pair come of age too young and dramatically.

It would be unfair to consider Cop Car pessimistic. Although the film leads with reasoning for rebellious behaviors – one kid is raised by his grandmother, the other with a step father – Cop Car wraps them in constant cruelty. Their flashes of fun are surrounded by negativity, and then bloodshed.

Centrally, they’re inadvertently the cause for it all. Cop Car either carries darkly comic disdain for the social ignorance of kids or wishes to expose how society traps them in a cycle of violence. At 88 minutes, Cop Car is too perfunctory for clarity in all but the intelligent cinematography. But in that, Cop Car is beautiful. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

The cop car @ 59:05

Universal’s Blu-ray is marvelous, offering necessarily high bitrates and astonishing clarity. Using the full breadth of a Colorado shooting locale, Cop Car whips up miles of grassy fields. Definition is absurdly good. Cinematography never plays with lens effects; no bloom, no filters. It’s all pure.

Vibrancy is the memorable quality. Cop Car streaks across a single day in full sunlight, exposed with dazzling contrast from all sides. Resulting detail, even on the face’s of Wellford and Freedson, is never less than perfect. Depth is always pristine.

Limited color grading situates much of Cop Car in a light glaze of earthy browns, maybe some orange. Warmth is evident until a chillier final chapter. Flesh tones are rarely impacted to any grand degree, and no loss of full white is evident. Contrast flushes into every frame.

A touch of noise is easy to dismiss. So is the slightest hint of aliasing on the car. Cop Car looks wonderful. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Video]

A subdued DTS-HD mix is appropriate to the needs of the film, keeping cars passing through the edges of the screen or adding a splash of ambiance within car interiors. Those effects, along with a bit of work from the score, make up most of Cop Car’s audio.

For the finale, gunshots will pierce the relative silence with a spectacular volume boost, selling the narrative’s angle as the kids hold their ears. Bullets travel into rear channels as needed. The sequence is no showcase, but effective. Metal clanging on a windmill becomes the soundtrack, although sadly the sound does not travel with the camera. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

The First & Last Ride is the only bonus, a near worthless three-minute look at the production with limited information on the shoot. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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