I feel like cops in media get a bad rap. Not because I think all cops are shown as being evil or corrupt, but because most cop shows or movies don’t really showcase what life is actually like as a cop. When people think of cops in movies or TV shows, their first thoughts usually go to shows like Law & Order, CSI, or God forbid, COPS. You’ll occasionally get products that try to paint a more truthful depiction of life as a cop, but the results are usually mixed. Crown Vic is one of the more honest portrayals of life as a cop and it beats you down relentlessly with how bleak and miserable it can truly be.
Director: Joel Souza
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Crown Vic takes us on a journey in patrol car 20-14 in Los Angeles as two cops drive around taking care of their beat. One cop (Thomas Jane) is a grizzled veteran of the force that was demoted due to an incident where his former partner was killed in an armed robbery after the veteran killed the murderers. The other cop (Luke Kleintank) is a rookie on his first night of patrol who’s been dealing with a soulless security job for the past three years and finally wants to get some action on the streets. At first they deal with the standard cavalcade of drunks and crazy crank calls, but as the night goes on both men get a dark look at the underbelly of LA.
As I’m writing this review, the thing that strikes me most about Crown Vic is the bleak nihilism that the movie embraces as it continues. At first it’s actually pretty funny and got a few chuckles out of me with how ridiculous their jobs can be. There’s something inherently funny about a crazy woman calling the cops because she thinks there’s someone in her backyard, seducing the rookie by stripping naked on her porch, only for her husband to come home brandishing a hammer while the woman sprays both cops with a garden hose for trying to hit on her. It bills itself as a thriller, but the movie can secretly double as a black comedy.
After fully watching the movie, I feel almost ashamed to admit that I laughed at it because of how serious and stern it became. Crown Vic never reaches uncomfortable or unpleasant territory, but it deals with tough subjects that have no clean answer. How would a cop react to hearing that there’s a child sex trafficking ring and that his old partner’s daughter was kidnapped to be in it? How do you justify killing an unarmed man who says that he’s going to find her and skull fuck her? Would you kill him? Plus how do you tell a woman that their husband was burned alive? Could you even do it?
The second half of the movie is filled with these uncompromising moments that reminded me of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Bad people will do bad things and if you’re a cop you’re going to have to find some way to justify your actions and find a way to sleep at night or go crazy trying. It paints the police in a sympathetic light, though not too much. The veteran bemoans that with the advent of body cams and everyone having a camera on them cops can’t efficiently do their jobs, but the rookie views it as a way to make sure that the people that are meant to enforce the law must follow it themselves. Two different perspectives with two valid opinions from their experiences.
After a while, I was able to pick up on a routine that Crown Vic was doing that kept the pace going, but sacrificed flow. We would see the two cops talk to each other in their car about whatever was on their minds, then we would see them on a dispatch dealing with the crime of the moment. Afterwards they would return to the car, rinse and repeat for two hours. There would be some deviation, like when they have to deal with a psychotic officer who wanted to sodomize a perp and sticks the rookie’s gun in his mouth, but those are few and far between. Those breaks from the routine, though, are when Crown Vic really comes to life.
By the end of the movie you’ve just been beaten to submission by Crown Vic — you have to accept the cynicism it offers. The message that Crown Vic gives is clear. Being a cop sucks because you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you follow the law to the letter, you’ll be eaten up by the criminals and most likely die. If you try to save a person by any means necessary, they’ll be the first to turn on you for not following the law exactly and ruin your life. The job sucks, plain and simple.
Sure, it may be tiring to spend half of the movie just watching two people talk in a car with almost a stream of consciousness mentality with limited camera positions, but that intimacy works towards the film’s benefit. The performances and the discussions about morality push the movie through those rough patches and gives you an ending that leaves you empty and vacant on the inside. And I kind of like the feeling that it left me.