When a pair of 10-year-olds find an abandoned cop car in a field and take it for a joyride, it seems like they could kill themselves at any moment. But things only get worse when the small-town sheriff goes looking for his missing car—and the illicit cargo he left in the trunk—and the kids find themselves at the center of a deadly game of cat and mouse they don’t understand. The only way out is to go as fast as their cop car can take them.
The first word of dialogue in 'Cop Car,' "wiener," is a dare of sorts. Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and his best friend and runaway mate Harrison (Hays Wellford) are running through the list of curses. Travis thinks up a new cuss, Harrison repeats it. On and on it goes as the two 10-year-olds traverse an empty arid landscape doing things 10-year-olds do when they're alone.
It's within those first five minutes that you realize this is a movie that understands kids. Specifically, at-risk lower-class preteen kids without a stable home life. We're never privy to whether Travis and Harrison have loving parents. The assumption is they don't. They're rough around the edges and apparently running away.
They're nonchalant about their escape though. They stroll through the countryside, nibbling on a Slim Jim – seemingly the only food they brought with them on their journey – when they come across an abandoned police cruiser. The kids are baffled. Daring each other to touch it, they soon get in the car, find some spare keys, start it up, and drive off.
What's so good, and ultimately so scary, about 'Cop Car,' is that you can picture just about any 10-year-old doing something like this given the chance. Harrison and Travis might be more prone to it, but this is a situation that calls to young kids who have little to no concept of lifelong consequences.
Travis and Harrison speed through fields doing donuts, blaring the sirens, and flashing the lights. The kids are having the time of their lives, but they're oblivious to the greater questions anyone else would be asking like, why was this car just sitting there? Whose car is it? Should we even be stealing a police car? Instead the two of them treat taking the car like everything else, a game.
What makes the movie so difficult to watch and the suspense so unbearable is the fact that we know what the kids are in for. We know the danger they're likely facing. We understand the consequences that follow. We cringe when they find the car's cache of weapons and attempt to try out the bullet proof vest. It's so uncomfortable because it's exactly the scenario we picture when young kids get hold of dangerous weapons without supervision.
Compounding problems is the person the kids stole the car from. Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) looks and moves like he could be a distant cousin of Lloyd Christmas. However, Kretzer is definitely not as benign as Lloyd. Kretzer is a sheriff with a few secrets. Secrets hidden in the cop car the kids stole. Bacon is great as the malevolent mysterious stranger. His twitchiness, along with the fact that we know next to nothing about him or his backstory, make him one scary dude.
'Cop Car' is a cat-and-mouse game, yes. The kids traverse the sparsely inhabited countryside as Kretzer tries frantically to track them down. It plays itself perfectly within its given genre. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that 'Cop Car' premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and with many Sundance films their endings are usually unordinary.
The bond between Travis and Harrison is endearing and frustrating. They feel the need to protect each other, but ironically every move they make endangers them more. One might be reminded of 'Stand By Me' when viewing 'Cop Car.' Sure this is a saltier version, but here we have naïve kids, embarking on a journey with consequences they'll only fully understand when they're older if they make it at all.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Cop Car' is a Universal release that comes to Blu-ray with a single 50GB disc. A UltraViolet Digital Copy is also included. The disc is marked for Region A playback. The case comes with a standard cardboard slipcover.
'Cop Car' is a lower-budget film that came onto the scene that first made an appearance at the Sundance Film Festival. Festival films vary wildly in terms of film quality depending on budget, equipment, and so on. 'Cop Car,' however, looks great from top to bottom. The quality is there and it transfers rather nicely to 1080p.
The transfer highlights the film's attention to detail. Its close-ups feature a wide variety of detail – facial hair, scrapes, cuts, blood, dirt, freckles, etc. – whenever the camera focuses on someone's face. The vast panoramas of the Colorado desert (where it was filmed) is presented clearly. Those shots show off the intricacies of the detail in long shots. The blue gradient sky never features a hint of banding. Windblown grass waves to and fro, with each blade distinctly visible.
Black areas are well delineated. There isn't any banding in darker scenes either. The blacks are smooth and presented perfectly even when light is cutting through the darkness. Contrast is accurate and colors are striking. Don't let it's low-budget beginnings scare you away, 'Cop Car' really does look great on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is solidly strong. It does its job admirably. There are only a few settings featured in the film, but all of them are filled with nuanced sound that is presented cleanly through this audio mix.
First and foremost, the dialogue comes through crisply. The mix does a great job at positioning the voices within the soundscape in relation to the character's position on screen. As the kids walk from left to right across the frame their voices move with them. Same effect seamlessly takes place as their newly stolen cop car traverses the shot.
Surround channels pick up whistling wind that picks up over the prairie, sporadic pop-pop-pop of gunfire, and the clunk of the car's chassis bouncing around as the kids drive it off road. The film's soundtrack features some pretty inventive drum beats that perk up the sub-woofer offering up some nicely placed LFE.
Their First and Last Ride: The Making of 'Cop Car' (HD, 3 min.) – Not so much a making-of as it is an EPK commercial lightly touching on the film's characters, themes, and situations. Nothing at all worthwhile though.
Jon Watts' 'Cop Car' is thrilling, but also quite astute at exploring friendship. It's also keen on observing how kids this young might act when confronted with danger and how they probably won't know how much danger they're really in. With strong audio and video, 'Cop Car' is recommended.