Contrary to what the trailer for Copshop might show, this is not another action-man Gerard Butler film. His part is one of a strong ensemble cast in Joe Carnahan’s new shoot-em-up jail action flick. It would be fair to say this film offers far more than first meets the eye and has a distinctive, mean 70s’ cop thriller feel to it. Think Dirty Harry with a strong dose of Tarantino/Rodriguez – but just swap Harry for Harriet because the character that provides the moral compass is played by The Tomorrow War and Watchmen star Alexis Louder who dominates each scene with her more notorious co-stars.
The main plot sees con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) punch cop Valerie Young (Louder) just to get put in jail as professional hitman Bob Viddick (Butler) is contracted to take him out. Thinking he has escaped a bullet, he is shocked to see Viddick placed behind bars opposite him, as the hired killer pretends to be a DUI case. Other subplots are brewing around this central one, including disorder in the police rank and file, a crooked FBI agent and an investigation surrounding a District Attorney’s death that has some vague relevance to Murretto’s situation. Although a lot of these do not get the full explanation and resolution that they might otherwise deserve – especially the crooked FBI agent and her own goal, all subplots do help build the tension within the four concrete walls of the copshop where the primary focus is maintained.
The ambiguity at the start of ‘who, what, why’ plays nicely into the utter confusion and chaos in the second half. We have no real details, aside from the fact that Murretto cannot be trusted, has upset someone in the Mob, and is the catalyst for the story. Sharp shooter Young who fancies herself as a rodeo gun slinger tries to gain answers to serve our curiosity but does not get very far, after the arrival of another killer who thwarts her attempts and causes the situation to revert back to chaos. Louder as the only female on the police block strikes another goal for powerful female portrayals on screen to the point where gender becomes irrelevant, as the most tactical player wins.
In the meantime, Grillo, Butler and Louder’s characters do a thrilling job of ‘playing poker’ with each other, trying to second guess the other person’s next move and ultimately, having to join forces to survive as the ‘real psychopath’ is on the loose. There are some fun one-liners in Kurt McLeod and Carnahan’s average script too, some mocking the situation. Hence, it is a film that does not take itself too seriously either, even as carnage ensues.
In fact, the show stealer in the second half is a brilliant Toby Huss as balloon-holding psycho Anthony Lamb who has fun picking off his victims as he gets closer and closer to his target: Murretto. By this stage, we are not too fussed with details as to why he wants the doomed snitch, only that Lamb gets close enough and is deliciously deviant in doing so, teasing his prey Murretto about his top knot with a hilarious line about a Tom Cruise film no one watches. His performance is one of the best screen psychopaths in a very long time, completely unpredictable while having far too much fun in his work.
The end action allows Louder to flex her muscles and showcase her talent in this genre. The finale suggests more is to follow too, but quite what and where remains to be seen. It is a very tempting invitation by Carnahan and one we hope will not take too long to arrive. Copshop knows the kind of film is it and appeals to, does not go for scenes of grandeur or venture too far from the hotbed of all the malaise, and for knowing its limits and keeping things tight and in one location, this works to strengthen its impact. One thing is for certain, all its characters live up to expectations in the end so this is a resolution of sorts that makes you come away feeling comfortably entertained.