When I think of director Joe Carnahan, I vividly remember the short film “Ticker” from the BMW Film Series, “The Hire” featuring Clive Owen. It was a slick short featuring Clive Owen. Carnahan would go on to write and direct “Smokin’ Aces,” which is another action farce that I enjoyed.
Carnahan is back in the quaint and violent “Copshop” featuring Gerard Butler, who grows on me with each role he turns out. Butler plays Bob Viddick, a hitman whose prize is Frank Grillo’s Teddy Murretto.
It turns out that Teddy took something from some very shady people who want his head. I haven’t seen much of Grillo’s work, and Film Twitter adores him. He’s moody, aggressive and the camera loves him, with his Antonio Banderas “El Mariachi” look, right down to the long, flowing hair.
Right out of the gate, Carnahan pays tribute to 1970’s cinema with the opening fanfare, and it sets the mood and gives the story an unexpected flair while if you’re familiar with the reference, you’ll get the gist of the story right away; it had me excited. Then we meet Alexis Louder’s Valerie Young, a rookie cop with an ax to grind of her own. Louder is steady as a rock and likes a good game of Russian Roulette with a pistol.
Carnahan and co-screenwriter Kurt McLeod (from a story by Mark Williams and McLeod) are efficient and swift in their action, and the characters are exceptionally well-defined. By corralling the players into an isolated police station, we get a chance to learn more about them without external influence and with each passing moment, the aggression builds – who’s who?
By confining the story to nearly one location, Carnahan also gains efficiency in storytelling with only so many places for each of the characters to hide. And, yet it is the details that each character offers about themselves and the situation that is allowed to breathe. Butler gives his trademark “I don’t give a [bleep]” attitude. There’s something different about the performance that elevates him above his trademark, which shows that he has a range between a man of action and a man of drama.
Grillo is steady and true, but he’s a bull-in-a-china-shop with more than meets the eye; a secret and a family to protect from the men who would harm him. In one particular moment, Carnahan pays homage to Scorsese with an attempt on Teddy’s life in a flashback sequence which starts this whole adventure for the character.
For everything that happens to her, Alexis Louder is the standout. Cocksure and ready to tumble, she can handle her own. She wants to get to the truth and plays Valerie with great assuredness. By caging all of them in a single location, Carnahan brings out the very best in each of the actors.
Toby Huss plays Anthony Lamb, a mobster whose mouth runs like the day is long. There’s a charm in his taunts and his wit is as sharp as his shooting skills. Ryan O’Nan plays Huber and the less said about his character the better, but he rounds out the central cast well, even if his character ends up being a whiny bitch.
The aforementioned opening theme underscores the plot as the title cards come up on the screen. Throughout the film, Clinton Shorter’s score adds gravitas to the story while Juan Miguel Azpiroz spends the majority of the film bathed in dim lighting and shadows, giving the visuals of the film the slick look that Carnahan is knowns for. It is Kevin Hale’s quick editing that makes this 107-minute movie fly by.
“Copshop” shouldn’t work, but it does. It won’t win awards, but if you’re a fan of 1970’s cinema or you’re a fan of the strong cast, you’re in for an unexpectedly fun ride.