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Review: 'Copshop' (2021) Dir. Joe Carnahan

Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder, Toby Huss, Ryan O'Nan and Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau


Action veteran Joe Carnahan brings an explosive, simple story by writers Mark Williams and Kurt McLeod that pays homage to the gritty, action-packed cop thrillers of the 1970s...

At the Gun Creek City police station in Nevada, another quiet night is on the cards. Officer Valerie Young (Louder) brings in con-man Teddy Murretto (Grillo) to spend the night, and drink-driver Bob Viddick (Butler) is also brought in.

But it turns out Viddick is a professional hitman and wants to be right where he is - yards from Murretto to collect a bounty on his head. It's down to the station cops to keep the two at bay and restrain their violent outbursts.

But thanks to a corrupt officer in their midst and hitman Anthony Lamb (Huss) on the way for Murretto also, the small unit must work out who to trust and how to stay alive long enough to see the morning before they are all wiped out together...

Fans of the 1970s cop thriller will be right at home with the opening titles; no time wasted in showing us big, bold font drenched in colour to the theme of Magnum Force; channelling the grit of original 70s cop icon Clint Eastwood tells you everything you need to know for what director Joe Carnahan is trying to do. With a score full of mystery, brashness and orchestral / percussion sweeps by Clinton Shorter, this may not be set in the 70s, but it's certainly going for the raw simplicity of that forgotten genre.

It's a slow night in a small Nevada police station, which immediately sets alarm bells ringing because you know it won't stay slow for long. A rag-tag bunch of low-life criminals are brought together in the cells, with a handful of police officers not exactly brimming with job satisfaction. Another iconic film Carnahan uses here is 1976s Assault on Precinct 13. We get introduced to a number of cops in welcomed clichés such as rookie Alexis Louder, corrupt Ryan O'Nan and their loud-mouthed station Captain Chad L. Coleman. On the other side, we have the criminals - Frank Grillo's conman incarcerated for a petty crime, hitman Gerard Butler out for a bounty and general psychopath Toby Huss. Bring all these firecrackers together under one contained, gloomy location and watch them explode.

Carnahan isn't here to rip off plots from older films, but pay a sweet nod to effective genre traits, situations and locations that are most effective when used sparingly to create bold, thrilling movies.

A small cast means plenty of time to get into their characters without boring exposition - Grillo's conman is targeted for a hit, and we are drip fed why and what makes him so special. Butler's grizzled hitman is here to do a job and will do what it takes to make the hit. Louder carries her prize pistol on her thigh and fights a boring job in search for some excitement. Huss arrives to really turn the film on it's head with callous, cold dealings. With some shady figures outside the cells making sure their night is not going to go smoothly into morning, you'll be left wondering right to the end who of these less than angelic sorts will make it to the credits and pull the final ace from their sleeve.

Thanks to the acting talent themselves, our group are entertaining and easy to watch take part in the chaos with a sharp, biting script to boot. Grillo and Huss are clearly here to have fun but not let things get too tongue-in-cheek with their trigger happy crooks. There are threads injected to build up the character motives, and all help build on deciding who is the real dangerous one among the group and who can, or can't, be trusted. It's yet more of this dark, dangerous corrupt world that fills the crime genre, not making this a pretty place to live or work. It's safe to say that Carnahan doesn't hold back with the violence, brutal in its execution. Literally.

The sets reek of a dank John Carpenter police precinct with cold dark blues and whites lining the cells, and a rotating air-con fan throwing atmospheric shadows across the stone floor and lumbering iron bars. It reflects a lifeless labyrinth to be survived where shadows can be your ally. With pretty much zero CGI in sight, we are treated to practical effects in simplest form such as pyrotechnics, shoot-outs and stunts, grizzly make-up and gore all to make this look as real and low-frilled as possible. A stand out sequence of such is a tense moment with Huss and Louder engaged in a shoot-out with only cracking bulletproof glass on one side and a locked door on the other.

Even with the peppy marketing campaign and fast-paced simple story, the humour doesn't once come to remove the overall threat and danger. This isn't a one-man army show either for Butler to repel the bad-guys and save the day. It's paced with eerie silence, shock murders, anxious waiting and tension about how best to survive, who to trust, what to fight with and how to make it until morning with limited resource and time, right through to the explosive climax.

A dark thriller that takes DNA from the genre of the 1970s. A brisk, brutal journey through a violent night with a solid cast leading the way in the capable hands of Carnahan.

'Copshop' is a co-production between Sculptor Media, Zero Gravity Management, G-BASE Film Production, Raven Capital Management and WarParty Films

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