Adam Woodward


A Cop Movie – first-look review

Two professional actors go ‘undercover’ in this eye-opening exposé of Mexico City’s police force.

The opening credits of Alonso Ruizpalacios’ second narrative feature contain a curious juxtaposition. The bold colours, up-tempo chase music and punchy editing call to mind low-rent American vigilante films from the 1970s, yet the accompanying montage of black-and-white reportage photography is at once stark and sobering in its subject matter. This is a serious, socially-conscious cop movie with a playful postmodern twist.

Set in present-day Mexico City, the film introduces us individually to its two first-year recruits as they each reflect on their reasons for becoming officers and their experiences so far. It’s soon revealed, however, that Teresa and Montoya are partners in more ways than one. Wryly referred to as “the love patrol”, they are in fact professional actors Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones, who Ruizpalacios enlists to go undercover (as it were) in order to learn the ropes of one of the world’s toughest police forces.

The second half of the film begins with smartphone-formatted video diary footage, switching between the protagonists as they describe the gruelling process of completing the police academy’s six-month training programme. Through these intimate confessionals and what presumably are scripted scenes of Mónica and Raúl on duty, Ruizpalacios interrogates the role that law enforcement plays in Mexican society, revealing the unsurprising fact that anyone who wears a badge is viewed by the general public with a mixture of distrust and derision.

Why would someone choose to join the force? For one, it’s a well-paid career for those who can stomach it. But as a visibly frazzled Raúl says at one point, “I don’t understand what makes them tick […] I don’t want to be a cop.” Ruizpalacios is less forthcoming with his own viewpoint, though he does appear to endorse the sentiment that cops are not superheroes: they’re regular people with a difficult job to do, and just as there are good cops and bad cops, there are good citizens and bad citizens too. That said, the testimony heard here from the two leads and their fellow cadetes does not exactly paint the police in a good light.

Like a lot of Mexicans, Ruizpalacios displays a healthy skepticism towards the institution of law and order, which as we all know is susceptible to corruption and regulatory issues (to put it mildly). But this is not a film with an overtly political agenda. A Cop Movie is first and foremost a humanist drama. It centres heightened, often conflicting, emotions on both sides of the thin blue line, as Mónica and Raúl learn just what it means to protect and serve a public who would evidently prefer to be left well alone.

Published 5 Mar 2021

Tags: A Cop Movie Alonso Ruizpalacios Berlin Film Festival

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