A poetic character study etched in its primrose Portland, Seattle locations, “Police Beat” is a clear-eyed dissection of the immigrant experience in pre-smartphone America. Senegalese non-actor (and former Junior World Cup Soccer Team star) Pape Side Niang plays Z, a newly hired bicycle cop attempting to create a romantic life with an American white girl more interested in playing head-games than spending time with him. Barely into his 20s Z is a Muslim struggling with Western culture from the ground up. His motivations are unfettered. He saw an ad in the newspaper, passed the test, and became a police officer.
Co-writer/director Robinson Devor (“Zoo”) frames the weeklong narrative in police procedural terms based on actual case files. As such, every day-to-day social encounter rings with an element of banal, unpredictable truth beneath Z’s running inner monologue that narrates the movie. Our protagonist deals with frequently stressful tasks by concentrating on things in his personal life. The device works well in keeping the audience engaged. Every scene has multiple layers of emotional and physical suspense inherently built in.
Z wants to be promoted to a patrol car. In the meantime he’s stuck patrolling downtown Portland on a mountain bike. His sometime partner (Eric Breedlove) is a heroin-addicted white cop whose girlfriend is a prostitute.
Pape Side Niang’s character is the same person in or out of uniform. He brings his own method of common sense in dealing deal with the normal, confused, irate, or outright insane (largely white) locals he comes into contact with. His exotic West African accent expedites rather than hinders.
“Police Beat” (2003) is far from a perfect film, but its originality unites with its quietly charismatic lead actor and keen compositions to generate a haunting human experience brimming with truthful social commentary.
Sadly, Pape Side Niang passed away at the age of 25 with “Police Beat” as his only film.
Not Rated. 80 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)
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