“A Cop Movie” is a gimmicky docu-drama about Mexican policing, a film that invites you to see through the gimmick and find its greater truth.
But that “truth” isn’t exactly a shock. And the gimmick impacts how we relate it to that “greater truth.”
In and out of Mexico, people have stereotypes in mind when they hear that phrase “Mexican police.” “A Cop Movie” tries to get at some of the reasons for the stereotypes, the degree to which they’re true and just how bad things are for uniformed representatives of the government whose duty is supposed to be keeping people safe.
We follow around two officers, 17 year veteran María Teresa Hernández Cañas, who joined the force as a teenager, and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez Hernandez. Both took up the work as “something to do” for a living after high school. She’s the daughter of a policeman, he joined at the same time as his brother.
After opening with a grabber of a scene, Teresa showing up in a bad neighborhood where a woman in labor has been waiting for an ambulance for two hours and is then forced to assist in a child birth with “no first aid training,” Alonso Ruizpalacios’s film practically clocks out. He treats us treats us to long, somewhat tedious voice-over narration about the internal debate within Teresa’s family about her decision, her father’s tough love efforts to dissuade her, then to keep her away from his precint.
While that goes on, there are recreations of her typical night on the job — cops napping in their cruiser, every stop fraught with fear over what might go down, car breakdowns and, in a story she relates hearing from her father, routine police shakedowns for traffic violations.
Yes, bribes supplement their income.
Similarly, we hear and see the other cop, whom we learn is her partner and who goes by “Montoya,” as he tells his story of taking a job just to earn a living.
At every turn — stopping to eat Mexican fast food, stopping to ask somebody to get out of the street, taunted at a gay pride parade — we see and hear the abuse hurled their way. The disrespect these poorly-paid, under-trained peace officers endure is enough to make the “Blue Lives Matter” lobby wince in shame. They don’t know what contempt and on-the-job danger looks like, by comparison.
The flood of unresponded to radio calls, the disorganization of the office, the petty corruption, “laziness” and rank cowardice plays down to every ugly stereotype that’s been the Mexican cop’s lot, from the Federales days onward.
There’s a fear of “getting involved” that plays out most nakedly in that opening scene. Teresa approaches the address of the police call and faces a faintly menacing looking fellow standing in the middle of the street. She watches him slow-walk towards her and slowly reach behind his back to retrieve…a cell phone.
Once she’s ascertained there’s a baby coming, but no ambulance, she frantically tries a work-around to get one to show up. And sitting in her cruiser, she has to decide whether to just drive off, or stay and try to help.
And just as we’re settling into the movie’s “true stories on the beat” vibe, with characters mouthing the voice-over narration coming from the other officer, Ruizpalacios (“Gueros”) reveals his first, obvious gimmick, and sets us up for the second. Is anything we’re seeing “real?”
The movie this brings to mind is “Midnight Family,” a superb documentary expose of Mexico City’s appalling freelance ambulance services, a nightmarish look into the lives of the under-paid, under-qualified hustlers most of the city relies on to get them to a hospital in an emergency.
“A Cop Movie” suffers in comparison because it’s not a documentary, not really an expose and not exactly “superb.”
But what we see the police go through and hear of the awful conditions they endure, with anyone Indigenous who wears a uniform hearing “”stupid dirty Indian” (in Spanish with English subtitles) and worse every time they try to enforce the law, is genuinely chilling.
In a place where petty corruption and that North American policing excuse for corruption, “officer’s discretion,” rules the day, petty anarchy is the rule.
“A Cop Movie” is a slick exploration/explanation of Mexican policing. But as the style drifts from first-person, dash-cam point of view “reality” to a laughably generic foot chase through the city and onto the subway, it becomes obvious that believing what we see and hear is meant to matter here. And the gimmicks undercut that too many times along the way.
Rating, R, for violence, sex, profanity
Cast: Mónica Del Carmen, Raúl Briones, María Teresa Hernández Cañas, Jose de Jesus Rodriguez Hernandez
Credits: Directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios, scripted by David Gaitán and Alonso Ruizpalacios. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:47