Chicago International Film Festival 2017 – Black Cop REVIEW
Black Cop has a lot of good ideas, but their impact is somewhat lessened by the movie's inability to completely trust its audience.
Much like Bronx Gothic, which follows another black artist who made a performance piece about how their blackness is perceived, the movie Black Cop judges us as much as we judge the title character.
Ronnie Rowe plays the cop who goes unnamed throughout the movie (along with everyone else), and his chosen profession has led to a lonely existence indeed. Not only do many of his fellow officers distrust him, but other black people are quick to call him a sellout and worse, as poignantly shown at a Black Lives Matter rally where many activists scream in his face about how much worse he is than white cops who actually shoot the unarmed. Rowe takes it because he feels that doing the job is worth it for reasons that are not fully revealed until the film’s poignant ending. But one day, when he is out of uniform, he’s stopped by some officers for no reason and treated in a humiliating fashion, he finds he can take no more.
So the next time he’s out on the job, he strangles a fellow cop who is harassing two young black youths until the officer loses consciousness. Rather than feeling remorseful, he discovers he loves the rush that comes with exacting vengeance on the white and privileged, and soon he is beating a white jogger with his baton, roughing up a white couple, tasering the man and forcibly wrestling the woman to the ground.
In one of the film’s most brilliantly unsettling forms of commentary, all these horrific acts are shown via his body cam so that it looks disturbingly similar to YouTube videos of real-life police brutality, allowing director Cory Bowles to interrogate us and our preconceived notions. Of course what we’re seeing is painful and difficult to watch, all the more so due to its realism. But would we be reacting this way if he was roughing up black people? Would we be wincing as much? Would most whites still see these people as victims? Bowles doesn’t think so. The people being hurt don’t see the danger the unhinged protagonist represents, which only angers him further. They demand answers, they refuse to cooperate, they react in disbelief and are unable to fathom why he’s treating them this way. But we in no way think they deserve what’s happening to them. So why, Bowles asks, do so many white people seem to think that people of color do?
There are numerous other commentaries in the form of an unseen talk radio host, and little segments that show Rowe speaking to the camera. There is a deeply tragic situation, but Bowles in no way lets Rowe off the hook, as we are clearly meant to lose sympathy when Rowe nearly guns down a young student. Some of the symbolism and satire is a bit clunky or far too on-the-nose, but mostly Black Cop shows us the tragic fall of a man who hits his breaking point and becomes determined to similarly break the community he’s sworn to protect.
Black Cop has a lot of good ideas, but their impact is somewhat lessened by the movie’s inability to completely trust its audience. It’s worth seeing, if only to watch such relevant issues explored in a new, unsettling way. If you can handle extreme discomfort and sometimes clunky symbolism, Black Cop is definitely worth a watch.