by Ben Cohen
A Black police officer (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) seeks revenge after being egregiously profiled and assaulted by his colleagues, in this searing political satire by actor-director Cory Bowles (Trailer Park Boys). -TIFF description
William Faulkner once said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. Cory Bowles, known for his role as Cory in Trailer Park Boys, has written and directed just that: a raucous, stylish, vivid drama centred around a pariah in communities both blue and black, the titular Black Cop, who epitomizes internal conflict by virtue of his role in society.
Black Cop excels not just as a powerful political statement, but also technically, as a genuinely well-woven piece of cinema. The soundtrack is evocative, puissant and fresh. The score makes ironic use of minstrel songs, features “black spiritual death metal” (as Bowles referred to it after the show) and tempestuous, lyrical hip hop. One jarring scene in particular thunders with excellent musical pairing, wherein cacophonous jazz batters our brains into a state of alarm, tuning us into the main character’s frantic emotional state.
The cinematography, though occasionally borrowing techniques from other films (Bronson, 2008, in particular during recurring, creatively lit fourth-wall breaking asides), is intelligent, inspired and raw. The audience is exposed to police brutality in the film in the same manner as we are in real life, as the camera shifts from dashcam to body camera to smartphone recording during these troubling scenes. Though Black Cop was shot in only 12 days, one would never hazard to guess that.
Ronnie Rowe Jr. delivers a magnetic performance as the Black Cop. “Every moment [Rowe was] on camera, he moved me,” said Bowles in his introduction to the film at the Tuesday night premier – a statement I nearly agree with. Though I admire the skill with which Rowe navigated the emotional depths and complexities of his character, I couldn’t help but feel that his delivery of some of the more humorous bits of dialogue warranted a few more takes.
Politically, Black Cop occupies a space so relevant and contentious and finishes – after quickly doing away with the first act’s faux-passivity – with such vibrant, furious and unapologetic moral certitude that it seems almost fated to exist, like the word of God blaring across a silver screen, commanding everyone in attendance to champion the importance of black lives and to acknowledge the undeniable systematic oppression they face. In the end, Black Cop is an allegory carved from the same marble as Everyman. The lesson is that, in these divided times, to ignore is to encourage, to deny aid is to abet and that racial profiling and police violence can’t just be wished away.