2005Director: Robinson Devor
Cast: Eric Breedlove, Pape Sidy Niang, Anna Oxygen
hen discussing alumni of the Sundance Institute, critics often point to a sort of "indie-beige" uniformity of tone, style, and content they claim to find across many of the films championed by the folks from Park City, possibly even constituting a genre unto themselves. From Richard Schickel's article in Time highlighting Sundance 2007: "The style is spare and naturalistic. The theme is relationships, beginning in angst and ending in reconciliation. The focus is often on a dysfunctional family (there are no functional ones in indie movies) that strives to reconnect."
In fact, Police Beat fits these stylistic and thematic descriptions, but with the philosophical remove of the police blotter. Based on co-writer Charles Mudede's column for Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, the film follows the life of Z (Pape Sidy Niang), a Senegalese-born member of the Seattle police force. Z narrates the film in his native Wolof, but spends most of his time and energy discussing his girlfriend, even while he and his partner are shown cycling around the city to investigate crime.
Said girlfriend—Rachel (Anna Oxygen)—has just left to go camping at the coast with a male friend, leaving Z nervous and unsure of the strength of their relationship. We are treated to imaginary updates on their liaison from time to time as the tally of unanswered phone messages rises higher and higher. They frolic on the dreamlike, overcast beaches of the Pacific Northwest beside towering monoliths and crashing waves, a sort of wild, private hell in Z’s head, but meanwhile—in physical reality—he keeps the peace on the streets of comparatively civilized Seattle.
These cutaways and Z’s introspective monologue provide an emotional distance from the visual content of the film. One might analogously contrast the gratuitous depictions of 2005 Best Picture winner Crash and televised news with Police Beat and the near-calm of a codified police report. As in Mudede’s column, the incidents as reflected in Z’s reports feel strangely fatalistic: weird autonomous misfortunes seek out the unlucky perpetrators in tragedies of mundane, everyday proportions.
Director Robinson Devor and director of photography Sean Kirby take great advantage of locations around the cinematically underexposed city of Seattle. The cops pedal between towering trees in Discovery Park, past the art deco Asian Art Museum, and along the graffiti-covered sidewalks above the Lake Washington Ship Canal. After arriving on the scene to speak with the victim or witnesses, Devor flashes back to dramatizations of the incidents reported (actually pulled from the files of the Seattle Police Department), imbuing the newly empty scenery with ghostly criminal presences. The atmospheric score provides a fitting backdrop for the soul-searching cops and hapless lowlifes.
Particulars of the much-lamented romantic relationship will likely fade in the viewer’s memory, and individual stories and accounts blur together into one extended string of misdemeanors involving a string of nameless faces and interchangeable implements. But the glow of the screens towering over Z in the police station, the red-brown and green of the sequoias and fir trees, the endless gray of the ocean and Puget Sound—all suggest the harsh melancholy of this story, and they remain vivid.
Police Beat is currently in limited release.
By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-07-27