Black Cop

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Black Cop
"Anger is the film's dominant emotion"

Director Cory Bowles takes a free jazz approach to his feature-length expansion of his 2016 Black Cop, a dark satire on racial profiling and police brutality. He mixes voice-over and cut away monologues with body-camera and dash-camera footage to paint his staccato portrait of a black Canadian officer pushed to the edge.

At an early turning point in the film the unnamed cop of the title (Ronnie Rowe) finds himself racially profiled while off-duty, it's a queasy moment that recalls a similar situation in Reinaldo Marcus Green's Monsters And Men, but where Green's film gave a real sense of the fear and vulnerability experienced by the officer in question, Bowles homes in on this character's anger at injustice. "Your black ain't my black", he repeatedly tells us in his early monologues, with footage in between showing him cruising around listening to angry squawk-talk shows on the radio, dealing with the police force's institutional racism and experiencing distrust from the black community for wearing blue.

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Bowles confronts us with 'what if?' situations, as his Black Cop begins to play out the sorts of scenarios that have all too frequently become associated with white cops and the black community in recent years. In one of several entirely plausible scenarios, Black Cop stops a white jogger to ask, "Why are you running?" and when the man replies are a mix of confusion and anger, the situation begins to spiral and ends in violence. On the one hand, it seems absurd - and perhaps it is for most in the white community, who are barely aware of the innate privilege offered by their skin tone - but as the scene continues, Bowles gives the watcher time to think all those uncomfortable thoughts about the situation in reverse. Back in the car, the radio burbles away with latent racism, with Bowles constantly nudging us to consider the anger that can quietly build in the face of this. Anger is the film's dominant emotion, enforced by avant-garde music from the likes of Zeal And Ardor with which it is punctuated, mixed with superbly skittish and unpredictable scoring from Dillon Baldassero that adds to the lead character's sense of edginess and psychological unravelling.

Not everything here works, the escalating scenarios are strong but the overall arc of the Black Cop doesn't quite go the narrative distance. Bowles has a short film and TV series background - perhaps a contributing reason for carving the film into three segments - and though the script sometimes spits impressively it doesn't always flow. Despite an intense central performance from Rowe the heavy reliance on monologue weighs down the early scenes, in particular, almost as though the script originally started out as a play. There's also little rhyme or reason to the way Bowles shoots the cutaway segments, one might feature a mic drop and another a boxing ring but these devices feel like arbitrary decisions rather than something borne out of, or to illustrate, the character's state of mind.

When Bowles goes beyond his character's declamatory statements and puts his ideas into dialogue-driven situations the film sparks into life, becoming the story not just of one man but of many. The film may not quite come together in the end but, thanks largely to Rowe's energy, like its main character it remains unpredictable and arresting.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2018
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Black Cop packshot
A black police officer goes off the rails.

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