Cops are cinema. From the man on the beat always chasing Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp to Dirty Harry performing yet another extrajudicial killing; as long as there have been movies, there have been movies about cops. But times have changed, and the tactics of modern policing are being called more and more into question, making filmmakers around the world reconsider their relationship to one of cinema’s great staple characters. Are they simply reproducing propaganda, even if their cop is dirty all the way down?
Perhaps the way forward is a film like A Cop Movie, which examines the way image-making is so crucial to the success of a police force. After all, the police thrive upon some measure of trust between them and their community; if we realise that they are as bent as the rest of us, there is no longer any reason to respect them. Rehabilitation, whether it is in the form of diversity stunts, active social media accounts, or humanizing videos, is their way of reclaiming the narrative and making the police force respected again. But can it work if we see behind the ruse?
A Cop Movie blends documentary-like footage and breathless voiceover with well-rendered reconstructions/fictional portrayals, starting with a tale of heroism as Teresa (Mònica Del Carmen) arrives at a barrio and helps to deliver a baby, no medical training or ambulance in sight. We learn more about her: she’s a woman in a man’s world, going against the advice of her own policeman father to join the force in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.
Her story is later mirrored by her partner-in-law-enforcement-and-in-life Montaya (Raúl Briones), who reflects on how being a cop was sometimes the only way out for a young man living in a poor neighborhood such as himself. We are treated to a plethora of anecdotes, opinions, and social diagnoses, the camera constantly weaving through police stations, city streets, and more in its exploration of the relationship between these protectors of the law and the citizens of Mexico City. All the while, money exchanges hands, petty bribes in return for the two police officers to look the other way… There is a disconnect between what we hear and what we see, suggesting that what the police tell themselves is more important to them than the actual reality of their job.
Then something extraordinary happens, which I will not ruin here. A playful and slippery investigation throughout its runtime, A Cop Movie excels in pulling the rug from under us and making us reconsider what we have just seen. Nonetheless, by constantly recalibrating and relying on narration to push the story forward, the movie is given no chance to breathe.
Additionally, the best cop movies excel in showing us tense stand-offs, moral dilemmas, and difficult split-second decisions; besides one ultimately inconsequent chase, there is nothing in A Cop Movie that really pulls the ethics of the film into view. While the real-life inspiration behind these tales makes us realize the difficulties inherent in such a profession, it would’ve been more effective if the film simply showed us how these dilemmas can come through in reality. As it stands, it’s an effective document, but a rather weak narrative fiction.