I have usually avoided the idea of VOD like the plague; I believe in the big-screen experience. But it is becoming apparent that video-on-demand is the only way some very deserving films — increasingly starring some big movie names — will get seen by any kind of sizable audience. Every week there are numerous titles being released in a handful of theaters day-and-date with VOD. A lot of Sundance Film Festival titles in particular are turning up this way (I caught another good one, People Places Things with Jemaine Clement, over the weekend).

pete hammond review badgeBut if there was ever a VOD film to make me warm to this trend it is director/co-writer Jon Watts’ Cop Carwhich stars Kevin Bacon, who also served as an executive producer. It started trickling out in a few theatres earlier this month. Like many of these films, it will be in and out of whatever venues agree to play a VOD movie, but it is a must for anyone who cares about great filmmaking no matter how you find a way to see it (this one is even hitting DVD by the end of next month). As I say in my video review (click the link above), Cop Car is already a strong candidate for my year-end 10 Best list and worth checking out no matter where you find it.

Watts — who co-wrote the script with Christopher D. Ford — has been handed the reins of Sony’s next Spider-Man film largely on the strength of the clear behind-the-camera skills he shows here in this tight, involving and riveting story of two young boys (the wonderful James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) who are running away from home on their own adventure through a large field in an unpopulated rural area when they come upon a seemingly abandoned police car. After spending a few minutes deciding to take the plunge, they get in it, discover the keys and take off on a joyride even though they are well below the legal driving age.

Soon, Watts takes us back a few steps in time to show how the car, driven by crooked county Sheriff Kevin Bacon, got there in the first place. He pulls a dead body out of the trunk and takes it to a secure remote location to dispose of it. When he comes back the car is, of course, gone. This sets him into a panic mode because he knows more about this car than these kids could even imagine when they made the ill-considered decision to take off in it. The movie then moves back and forth between Bacon’s desperate attempts to get back and find the car,  and the boys’ surprising discoveries along the way as they continue the ride of a lifetime. Bacon obviously knows a great part when he sees one, and he’s terrific and nuanced in this bad-guy role. Watts creates great tension in scenes where Bacon tries to save his own ass, particularly one where he uses a string to break into another car. Camryn Manheim and Shea Whigham are tops in smaller roles, but this movie really serves as a showcase for its two exceptional young actors, Freedson-Jackson and Wellford, who are excellent and make this all seem plausible.

Watts has created the kind of tight, tension-packed little crime thriller that reminded me of early Coen brothers gems like Blood Simple or more recently the Matthew McConaughey starrer Mud. It might be one of the more impressive directorial breakthroughs I have seen in some time, even harkening to early Spielberg with Duel and The Sugarland Express. Jon Watts has a major future in this business.

Sam Bisbee, Andrew Kortschak, Cody Ryder, Alicia Van Couvering and Watts are the producers. Focus Features’ VOD subsidiary Focus World is handling the release. Do you plan to see Cop Car — or maybe you already have? Let us know what you think.