I first saw Police Beat at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2005. It was hard for me to find the right words to describe it back then, and having seen it three more times since, it's still hard to find the right words to describe it. Rarely does a film come along that seems so innovative and original that you can't really compare it to anything else. And that's what Police Beat is--a film so uniquely original and stylish that is stands apart from pretty much anything I recall seeing in recent years.
Set in Seattle, Police Beat follows rookie bicycle cop Z (Pape S. Niang), a West African immigrant who has relocated to America, over the course of an emotionally tumultuous week. As Z peddles through the streets of Seattle, investigating one crime after another, he is plagued by the fact that his girlfriend Rachel has left to go on a camping trip. The relationship is still new enough that Z is uncertain of where he stands with Rachel, and the fact that her travel companion is an ex-boyfriend only adds to Z's insecurities. His mind forever fixated on his absent lover, Z endures an emotional rollercoaster ride, going about his daily routine, edging ever closer to heartbreak. The extent of his emotional insecurities becomes increasing difficult, so that even while starring down at a dead body in a room awash in blood, all he can do is wonder why Rachel has not called.
Police Beat is quite possibly the first existential cop love story, and for that alone it should be see. And despite appearances that suggest this is more of a cop film than a love story, it's simply not the case. Z's role as a police officer is secondary to his role as both a foreigner trying to make sense of his new life in a new country, and his position as a man so weighed down in his insecurity that he is crippling himself. You want to reach through the screen and slap Z, yelling at him, "Snap out of it!" But at the same time it is impossible to condemn him for the turmoil he's putting himself through, because we've all beaten ourselves up at one point or another over someone.
Far removed from either conventional cop films or conventional love stories, Police Beat is a film comprised of nothing but interesting choices sublimely executed. First and foremost is the fact that the actual story of the film is essentially told through Z's narration (which happens to be in Senegalese). This places the audience in the front and center in Z's mind as he wrestles with his emotions. At times is draws us in, and other times it pushes us away, but it always guarantees that we are connected to Z.
Another interesting choice is how Police Beat handles the crime it portrays. Throughout the film, Z is dispatched to deal with a variety of cases ranging from the ridiculous to the tragic. What is interesting is that all of these cases are presented as only fleeting moments within the story. The audience is never privy to all the information regarding any one crime, and instead we only see brief glimpses--usually the aftermath--without understanding the full context or backstory of what has happened. The result, for some, may be unsettling, confusing or even off-putting, but ultimately it is a brilliant move that allows the true focus of the film to remain on Z and his emotional crisis. The fact that Z is a cop simply gives the film a more interesting background to work with, but the film's heart and soul--the story of Z being gradually broken down emotionally--could play out in any professional environment.
Police Beat, in the most simple of terms, is a beautifully poetic, engaging film that carries even more emotional weight and resonance with repeated views. Co-written by Charles T. Mudede and Robinson Devor, who also directs, Police Beat is a film of profound humanity, laced not only with agonizing heartbreak but also inspiring emotional triumphs.