TIFF 2019: Coppers – movie review

Coppers. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

For the first time I’ve been granted press accreditation for the Toronto International Film Festival®, recognised as one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of movies. This is my review of Coppers (Alan Zweig, Canada, documentary).

After the international success of When Jews Were Funny (2013, Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF) and Hurt (2015, awarded the Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival), acclaimed filmmaker Alan Zweig’s Coppers premiered at this year’s TIFF. This is a documentary that encapsulates Zweig’s filmography: part companion piece of 2009 Hard Name (about ex-convicts) and part exploration of human behaviour related to the director’s own experience, Coppers is the recollection from the thirteen retired police officers of what happened while they were in the force.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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Through poignant and diversified interviews, Coppers leads the viewer to explore what these “coppers” had witnessed throughout their career and focuses on the traumatic and life-changing experiences they went through, both inside police stations and in the streets.

The director, who worked as a cab driver for 18 years, stated that “When police came into my life, they were almost always respectful and helpful. But as a cab driver I saw a different side of them. They bullied me and other cabbies, especially if you drove at night as I did and often times the only cars left on the road were cabs and cop cars. We were easy pickings”. After he befriended a couple of ex police officers, Zweig realised there was a reason as to why cops acted that way: “I’ve explored trauma in several of my films, including one about hard-boiled criminals – he said – One thing I know now is that no matter what side of the law you’re on, trauma is part of the package.”

This is the premise of Coppers, which delves into the psyche of former cops through the unbiased, unjudgmental approach of the director. His voice is very noticeable in the film, as he encourages the interviewee to speak when they’re on the fence and he comforts them when he sees the interviewee breaking down.

Throughout the 86-minute-long runtime, the thirteen police officers tell stories of fights, shootings, accident scenes and sudden death. They always refer to terms such as “chaos” and “adrenaline rush”. However, what emerges beneath the surface is a statement on a broken system that leads to various issues: alcoholism, sexism, racism, inappropriate conduct, corruption, code of silence, abuse, suicidal tendencies, self-destructive behaviour, depression.

Each story incorporated in Coppers is different from the previous one, as some of them are almost funny and others really graphic and disturbing, but they all have something in common: every one of them left a mark on the person speaking, whether this is evident in a failed marriage or in haunting nightmares that still occur to them.

In such a short runtime, Coppers manages to be an extremely disturbing look into a part of society that’s usually considered in a black and white manner: here, police officers are both guilty of tremendous and unlawful acts, but they’re also victims of both criminals in the streets and a system that never developed an appropriate support system.

The narrative flows seamlessly here, as the viewer gets progressively more involved with the life and feelings of the thirteen interviewees: the audience experiences a wide range of powerful emotions that make Coppers one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while (and undoubtedly the best documentary feature from 2019 I’ve seen). A few questionable editing choices (which felt distracting) and a rather suggestive score and the only flaws in this otherwise informative, poignant and brave piece of cinema.

Coppers                                 8/10

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