Movie Review: ‘A Cop Movie’ Examines Social Conscience
Ruizpalacios goes beyond the ‘defund’ and ‘reform’ clichés and examines his social conscience.
Alonso Ruizpalacios continues searching out narrative possibilities in A Cop Movie. As one of the innovative Mexican directors, along with Julián Hernández (Broken Sky) and Sergio Tovar Velarde (4 Moons), whom mainstream Hollywood has not embraced, Ruizpalacios demonstrates what conscientious filmmaking should be.
In A Cop Movie, Ruizpalacios explores the public and private risks taken by two Mexico City police, Teresa and Montoya, who are also a couple, nicknamed The Love Patrol. Their shared career ambitions and job ambivalence are revealed in a blend of documentary and fiction that is at first puzzling — the realistic POV is smoothly stylized, and cinematographer Emiliano Villanueva’s warm colors indicate careful, strategized composition. Yet Teresa’s one-person, on-foot investigation of a domestic disturbance teeters between mundane and threatening.
Our bafflement comes from figuring out whether this is another glamorization of urban chaos or something authentic. It’s a challenge to the dramatic conventions of TV crime shows and movie decadence.
A Cop Movie responds to the social moment, examining contemporary issues without resorting to “reform” and “defund” clichés.
Betwixt and between fashionable skepticism and native sympathy, Ruizpalacios learns that the current social-transformation trend of demonizing the police doesn’t fully account for the commitment of people on the force. He humanizes Teresa and Montoya and lets them explain what it means to work without public support and sometimes countering institutional corruption: “You live with the feeling of being unprotected.”
They discuss partnership, often addressing the camera to describe “the friendship you forge, the bond you feel,” as well as their pride. “I was moved that most of the cadets were indigenous people who looked like me,” Teresa says. Montoya also confesses the work’s secret excitement: “That adrenaline rush was some shit. You lose track of time.”
That revelation causes Ruizpalacios to reveal his experiment. He divides A Cop Movie into segments where the real-life Teresa and Montoya are exchanged with two actors (Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones) portraying them. This process amplifies the complexity of observations and ideas. Teresa and Montoya — each representing the idea of “Cop” — live a double drama. She admits, “Once you put on that uniform, you take on responsibility.” He jokes, “Don’t mention it to Alonso.”
Everyone participating in this project balances feelings about the subject with the expectations and misconceptions that people harbor.
Unsurprisingly, the professional actors are as vain and cynical as Hollywood elites, while the actual stout, smiling police have more complicated feelings. In this way, Ruizpalacios contrasts conservative experience with liberal sentiment. He analyzes cinematic structure to break through the class divide at the heart of police politics. The technique recalls how Godard, working toward his political phase, would have actors explain their roles — an advance that Ingmar Bergman couldn’t resist and copied in his existential The Passion of Anna. Ruizpalacios combines those techniques for a sociological result.
No contemporary Hollywood filmmaker would attempt the remarkable Joseph Wambaugh cop movies of the Seventies, The New Centurions, or Robert Aldrich’s tragicomic The Choirboys. (Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González-Iñáritu, and Guillermo del Toro — Mexican expats in Hollywood, facetiously called The Three Amigos — ignore their national crises.) But Ruizpalacious, while not as deeply compassionate as Aldrich, is film-smart and scrupulous. He shows his reviled cop figures in uneasy situations: Montoya is assigned to a gay-pride parade where he stands stoically, surrounded by flirts. Teresa gets bullied by a politician when she dutifully patrols his private business. During Teresa’s training — what’s called a Decisiveness Test — she dives into a pool tied to a “flimsy” rope and Ruizpalacios extends the moment’s risk and suspense in a slow-motion image that captures her precarious life choice. Amid cries to reimagine policing, most filmmakers are unimaginative. With A Cop Movie, Ruizpalacios explores that movement and then transcends it.