Director Alex Cox Crosses the Border to Take on Law Enforcement
DIRECTED BY ALEX COX/SPANISH/1991
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: APRIL 16, 2019/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
It’s weird to see English director Alex Cox, so acclaimed for his famed films Repo Man and Sid & Nancy testify that his personal favorite of all of his own films is 1991’s Highway Patrolman (El patrullero). This sentiment comes not from a studio publicity package generated for the film’s theatrical release, but rather as part of the considerable amount of newly created bonus content for this very Blu-ray release, courtesy of Kino Lorber.
Filmed and spoken entirely in Spanish and populated entirely by unknown actors, Highway Patrolman is, admittedly, something of a tough sell. Though Cox’s own considerable notoriety at the time, having recently come off of those aforementioned celebrated films, certainly would’ve proven a draw worth exploiting, there’s little reason to doubt the soft spoken and earnest filmmaker’s claim, particular at this point in his all-but-vanished career. The question is, will the same hold true for new audiences.
This considerably packed Blu-ray edition of Highway Patrolman comes off of a brief recent theatrical run, also spearheaded by Kino Lorber. For the occasion, Cox supervised the creation of a new 4K restoration of the film, which was also used to source this 1080p transfer. Shot entirely on location in and around the Mexican regions of Sierra de Organos, Sombrerete, Zacatecas, the country’s dusty and desolated splendor truly shines through thanks in large part to this re-release effort.
Just who is this highway patrolman, anyway? He is none other than a naive young nobody named Pedro Rojas (a fully committed Roberto Sosa), a well-intentioned guy initially looking to make a difference. That idealism doesn’t last long once he worms his way onto the police force, which is quickly shown to be nothing more than a transparent cash racquet fueled by all-important ticket quotas. The monumental horsecrap of it all puts him onto a morally devoid path, slowly chipping away at his conscience all the while. Not only does he impulsively marry a lawbreaking woman he barely knows in the spur of a moment (Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez), he keeps a mistress on the side (Vanessa Bauche). Things go cataclysmic for Pedro in rapid succession, leaving him awash in guilt and a slave to self-pity. When he’s given the opportunity to upgrade his patrol car to one that isn’t a disastrous piece of junk, he refuses out of sheer self-flagellation.
Full of some of the most engaging and expertly executed handheld camerawork witnessed in any movie of its pre-digital period, Cox goes for broke with the steadicam, at one point following Pedro as a desperate call for help from his compatriots just as his vehicle fails him on a lonesome road, leaving him to hobble to their aid on an injured leg, arriving too late at their skirmish, and then veering into the desert to find whoever might’ve survived. Bravura stuff, both motivated and fully effective.
With crime in Mexico being a reoccurring hot topic in today’s political sphere, this fresh spotlighting of Cox’s you-are-there narrative cops, robbers, and cops that are robbers could be considered more relevant than ever. Though the protagonist falls far short of any “good cop” archetypes, never let it be said that Highway Patrolman glorifies or sugarcoats its local issues corruption and crime. It’s all quite central, and at times rather violent, though the film’s relatively music-free soundscape and the story’s sheer unpredictability of what the next moment will bring lends the whole thing a strange sense of dark humour.
Alex Cox and Kino Lorber have left no stone unturned in their effort to make this Blu-ray something special. The vast amount of stuff included, both newly created and vintage, harkens back to the early days of DVDs, when studios worked to justify as many “special features” bullet points as possible on the backsides of their cases. Here’s the rundown for this one:
• 2018 intro by Alex Cox
• Audio Commentary by director Alex Cox and writer/producer Lorenzo O’Brien
• Patrulleros & Patrulleras – Featurette (35:48)
• Edge City – Short film by Alex Cox -aka- Sleep Is for Sissies (35:47)
• From Edge City to Mapimi – Featurette (5:31)
• “Even Stones Bleed Out Here: Highway Patrolman Rides Again” – Limited Edition Booklet Essay by Simon Abrams
• 2018 Re-release Trailer
• Newly Commissioned Art by Jacob Phillips
Yes, it’s a lot. Almost too much for something as off-kilter and out of left field as this. Of primary interest is the Edge City inclusion and accompanying mini-documentary. Edge City, aka Sleep is for Sissies is the filmmaker’s first directorial work and is in fact a project from him time as a film student at UCLA. It’s an anarchic piece that’s significant in demonstrating the roots of something like Highway Patrolman, and how it’s non-conformity to Cox’s other films actually renders it all the more of a piece with the better end of his greater filmography.
Is Highway Patrolman truly all that refreshingly unconventional? A movie about a corrupt cop being put through the wringer may sound formulaic, but Cox is enough of a confident risk-taker that Highway Patrolman never approaches such dismal territory. Rather, it fully occupies the dismal territory it does approach, sirens a-blazing. Because if a deceptively tranquil Englishman such as Alex Cox opting to make a full-on Mexican cop movie/art film in Spanish that’s been well received by the few who’ve seen it doesn’t floor your pedal to the metal, consider yourself guilty of the non-moving violation of lacking true cinematic curiosity.