Alonso Ruizopalacios’ incredible documentary flits effortlessly between narrative and fiction, attacking the corruption of law enforcement from multiple angles.
It’s common to think about each of us having a “role” in society, with costumes, positions, stages, and actions to be performed. Mexican director Alonso Ruizopalacios (Gueros, Museo) deputizes this idea in A Cop Movie, which investigates policing and the line between fiction and documentary with political precision.
We open with human voices making the sounds of sirens, colliding myth and human. A Cop Movie is about the people behind the sirens and actively works to demythologize unrealistic expectations of policing.
The police in Mexico City are overwhelmed. Over-burdened by a crumbling infrastructure with little to no training or support, they are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to adequately address the needs of the communities they serve. The cameras follow two officers, Teresa and Montoya, like a reality series.
Throughout the film’s four chapters, Ruizopalacios employs different film genres to trace the twisting route of reality with which he is toying. The film will shift from reality TV-style to art-house documentary with elegantly staged narration and “reenactments” and then eventually to smartphone camera as we get closer to Ruizopalacios’ interrogation of the Mexico City police system.
Together known as The Love Patrol for being romantic and precinct partners Teresa and Montoya come to represent the everyday human who wants to protect and serve their family and neighbors. Oftentimes they have to because no other help will arrive. Our first ridealong with Teresa follows her as she’s forced to deliver a baby because her precinct doesn’t have enough ambulances to meet the needs of the community.
A Cop Movie is, first and foremost, about money and its impact on policing. We see how the lack of it prevents the system from adequately and ethically serving its people. It’s not afraid to investigate the uses and movements of bribery. Tiny close-ups come to represent the whole: from the start of the day, we scrutinize the movement of small coins from palm to pocket and learn how such exchanges make much of the system function. As Teresa and Montoya’s ethics and capabilities are stretched thinner and thinner, the edges of the film itself begin to fray.
The final twist is too delicious to divulge. But wit rips off the film’s remaining artifice and allows Ruizoplacasious to make a richly complex emotional argument against what we’ve been shown up until that point. We see yet another layer of the human cost; it cuts brilliantly deep.
While A Cop Movie is not about outright police abolition, it’s not clearly on the side of police reform either. Underneath all the charm and humor lurks a sense of hopelessness in the face of an absolute hydra of corruption. A reformist message would advocate for better police funding, but Ruizopalacios deftly sidesteps this in favor of more nuance.
A Cop Movie shows quite plainly that the police don’t prevent crime; they just respond to it, often feebly. Furthermore, they’re already being asked to fill many different roles that they, like the pair we follow, have barely rehearsed. Teresa and Montoya are asked to be doctors, psychologists, detectives, noise patrol, property insurance, and more in the performance of their duties, roles the police are filling that would best be filled by other actors. A Cop Movie expertly exposes this shattered and lopsided system, and does so with surprising command of form.
A Cop Movie is currently streaming on Netflix.