Alonso Ruizpalacios's documentary blurs the lines between fact and fiction to intriguing but often frustrating effect
In a moment where so much of the world is grappling with the existential issues of how state power is exercised over its own populace, it’s hard to see the necessity of a documentary following the day to day work of an armed police force, particularly one that sidelines the civilians that this police work affects. Yet Alonso Ruizpalacios’s A Cop Movie proves to be a strange enough beast to compel, melding fact and fiction to tell a story of how a broken system can kill the very notion of a “good cop” stone dead.
Ruizpalacios follows two cops in the Mexico City police force, Teresa and Montoya. The pair are partners both on the job and as a couple, known by their colleagues as the “Love Patrol.” We first meet them in dramatic re-enactments, played by actors, before a mid-film switch has us meet the real people in interviews about their general dissatisfaction with police life. It’s an intriguing gimmick that initially throws you off-balance, and Ruizpalacios has a lot of fun in the re-enactments, employing a jazzy score and frenetic camera moves reminiscent of ‘70s cop B-movies.
There are also some trenchant insights into the bleak realities of law enforcement, from the open discussions of petty corruption with the real Teresa and Montoya to a Mexico City civilian talking about the shocking American police violence he witnessed in Miami. Unfortunately, though, the switch away from the more fictionalised accounts does also make A Cop Movie a bit duller in its second half, particularly when we see the Teresa and Montoya actors at police training to get into character.
It all becomes too winkingly clever for its own good, exploring a meta connection between acting and the tough-guy facades of a police department in a way that shows smarts but lacks the visceral hook of the first half. A Cop Movie’s refusal to be bound by genre lines is admirable but sometimes frustrating, a style-over-substance documentary with something to say but a muddled way of saying it.
A Cop Movie is now streaming on Netflix.Where to watch