Good Cop - Bad Cop|
What real life cops think of Hollywood Portrayals
police movies make me want to puke.
Make that your lead.
—Detective Sergeant Scott Johnson
In real life there are more good cops than there are bad cops. But in
Hollywood, most of the good movies are about bad cops. If all you know
about police work is what you see on the big screen, you might think being
a cop is either about breaking the rules to get the bad guys or going
all the way over to the dark side and becoming one of the bad guys.
Here to straighten you out are eleven members of the Portland Police Bureau.
BrainstormNW asked them to play film critic when it comes to cop movies.
They were asked to critique the way their careers in law enforcement are
portrayed on the big screen. This is just about cop movies, not cop television
shows. Cops get a much better shake on the small screen. And no Feds.
We’re talking strictly local cops, from the big cities to the suburbs,
from the boondocks to the backwoods, as rendered for the box office.
The critical consensus is that there are really only a few good cop movies
and a lot of really bad cop movies along with some stupid and some dangerous
cop movies. But there are no really GREAT cop movies. There are some great
scenes and great performances in various cop movies but never a beginning-to-end
film classic about a cop or cops. The officer/critics also agreed that
only a few cop movies bear even a passing resemblance to the reality of
their jobs. And they raise the issue of dealing with what I’ll call
the “Training Day/Bad Lieutenant thing. Bad cop movies like
these give those who don’t know better the idea that the cops are
criminals too, nothing more than crooks and killers with badges. Try telling
the 17-year old gang banger who’s seen Denzel as Detective Alonzo
Harris about twenty times that the cops AREN’T brutal and corrupt.
But the studios know that what sells tickets is the extreme. More than
one officer acknowledges that because so much of what he does is write
reports, reality can’t touch fantasy when it comes to audience appeal.
What follows are cop movie lists based on what these ten cooperative Portland
Police Bureau officers told BrainstormNW. They were recruited for critic
duties by a Bureau-wide email. Their opinions are only their own and not
THE TEN BEST COP MOVIES
OF ALL TIME
Officer Jim Lawrence came up with half of this list. His top five cop
movies all came up in interviews with the other ten officer/critics.
1. THE FRENCH CONNECTION. This is as close as you’ll
come to a GREAT cop movie. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture in
1971. Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, the dogged New York narcotics detective,
captures the reality of surveillance work when he’s seen eating
cold pizza outside the fancy restaurant where the suspect is dining. The
chase scene is shown in training classes at police academies. It’s
directed by the same guy, William Friedkin, who spent a lot of time in
Portland recently directing “The Hunted, with Tommy Lee Jones
and Benicio Del Toro.
2. THE NEW CENTURIONS. One of the few cop movies that
features officers in uniforms working the streets. Based on a Joseph Wambaugh
book and starring George C. Scott and Stacey Keach, this underrated cop
movie gives us two smart cops consumed by the job.
3. COLORS. Who would think that a movie starring Sean
Penn and directed by Dennis Hopper (Remember “Easy Rider?
He directed that too.) would make this list. But it kept coming up in
conversations with the officers. It’s based in L.A. in 1987 when
gang wars were at their peak (387 gang-related killings the year before).
Penn plays the adrenalized rookie teamed with the savvy veteran street
officer played by Robert Duvall. “Colorsgets it. “That
movie had a huge impact on how kids looked at us, according to
Officer Rafe Cancio of Portland’s Gang Enforcement Team.
4. THE BORDER. This almost violates the “no Feds
condition since it tells the story of a uniformed Border Patrol officer,
but Jack Nicholson does such a great job playing the conflicted cop that
I’ll make an exception. He’s dealing with what a lot of street
cops deal with every day: the futility of the work. You bust them; they’re
back on the streets. You deport them; they’re back wading across
the Rio Grande. Pretty harsh treatment of Jack’s fellow border patrol
officers (especially Harvey Keitel as the smuggler’s accomplice)
betrays a bit of an anti-cop bias.
5. HEAT. Back in the mid-’90s I interviewed then—Portland
Police Chief Charles Moose and asked him about his favorite cop movie.
The man who has become the best-known police chief in America said there
was only one: “Heat. It stars Al Pacino as the edgy LAPD
Robbery-Homicide detective who’s up against Robert De Niro as the
brains behind a crack team of armed robbers. Written and directed by Michael
Mann of “Miami Vice fame, it appeals to lots of cops for
the way it shows the cost of being consumed by your career fighting crime.
Now the rest of the best. The other five cop movies that belong on the
6. DIRTY HARRY. Most of the officers chuckled when I
mentioned Clint Eastwood’s best-known role. “Escapist…almost
cartoonish, is the way Officer Bob Gorgone describes the movie
that New Yorker critic Pauline Kael once called “a remarkably single-minded
attack on liberal values. Released in 1971, it had an eerie resonance
recently as the snipers near Washington DC demanded $10 million to stop
the killing just as the psycho killer in “Harry had.
7. FARGO. There’s not enough of Marge Gunderson of the Brainerd,
Minnesota police force—as played by Frances McDormand in this film
from the Coen Brothers—but what there is of her appeals to all the
officers who mentioned this movie. She’s a decent cop playing by
the rules, maintaining a home life and not losing her humanity on the
job. She even shoots a fleeing low-life sociopath in the lower leg to
wound rather than kill him.
8. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. James Ellroy, who wrote the book
on which this movie is based, won’t cop
how much of this story is based on the truth. In fact, he brags about
making it all up. But for a probing look at the personalities that make
up a big city police force, you can’t beat this one from director
Curtis Hanson. It’s got corrupt cops, honest cops and conflicted
cops played by Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and James Cromwell.
This is arguably the best ensemble cast ever in a cop movie.
9. SERPICO. Is there better dramatic material for a cop
movie than the agony of the officer who decides to expose the venality
of his colleagues? Al Pacino plays Frank Serpico of the NYPD as neither
saint nor crusader but as a man who believes that doing his job as a cop
means calling out cops who can’t be trusted. Pacino has played
lots of cops, but never as well as he plays
10. A tie
between THE PLEDGE and HOMICIDE. Sean Penn directs Jack Nicholson in “The
Pledge, which deals with a detective in a mid-sized city who can’t
let go of his last case. Jack goes around the bend but the obsession with
(or commitment to) that one case can be typical, according to our panel
of police officer critics. “Homicide is here because I had
to find a place for at least one David Mamet movie. Joe Mantegna plays
a detective who happens to be Jewish and finds himself caught between
his religion and his allegiance to the police force. Mamet dialog crackles
THREE “BEST WORST COP MOVIES
When I asked Sergeant Brian Schmautz of the Portland Police Bureau for
help contacting officers who might have something to say about cop movies
I mentioned “Training Day. There was a long pause on the
other end of the phone line. Then he said, slowly, “That…movie…was…unnerving.
1. TRAINING DAY. Denzel Washington finally gets his Academy
Award for Best Actor and it’s in a movie that a few of the officers
I spoke with couldn’t even watch. Unfortunately, lots of kids and
criminals have watched it. “They see that movie and they see us
as ugly, evil and corrupt, according to Officer Gorgone. “’Training
Day’ is as harmful as any movie I’ve ever seen when it comes
to police work, says Officer Jerry Cioeta. “I’ve had
kids say to me, ‘Hey, don’t think I don’t know what’s
going on. I’ve seen the movie. I know you beat people up.’
2. BAD LIEUTENANT. When I told non-cops I was working
on a piece about cop movies, a typical response was, “Oh, like ‘Bad
Lieutenant?’ Harvey Keitel plays the Lieutenant who even
other bad cops can’t believe when it comes to how low he has sunk.
As with “Training Day, some officers can’t stand to
watch this one all the way through.
3. INTERNAL AFFAIRS. The rare corrupt cop movie that
features an uniformed officer. In this case Richard Gere plays an LAPD
Sergeant who crosses way over the line and will kill his partner to protect
his criminal enterprise. The crusading Internal Affairs officer (Andy
Garcia) who goes after him is only marginally better. He’s supposed
to be the good guy but he belts his wife at one point and violates about
a dozen department rules along the way.
SPEECH ABOUT COP MOVIES IN A COP MOVIE
Written by Bill Gallagher
From SHOWTIME starring Rober DeNiro and Eddie Murphy.
“Being a police officer is not what you see on television. I’ve
never had to choose between the red wire and the blue wire. Never seen
a police car flip over causing a chain reaction with other cars that burst
into flames. Never had to jump from one rooftop to another. I spend my
time investigating crimes, tracking down leads, typing up reports and
sitting in court. It’s difficult, tedious work and you’re
not going to get rich doing it. But I’ve been on the job for 28
years and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m a detective,
that’s what I do. If you break the law in my city I will do everything
in my power to hunt you down and put you behind bars.
Delivered to a classroom of elementary school kids. Good speech. Lousy
Or, as Captain Mike Bell, Commander of the Transit Police Division with
the Portland Police Bureau, says, “My wife tells me, ‘Wouldn’t
it be neat to be a movie Captain?’ She means wouldn’t it be
neat not to have to go to endless meetings, deal with mountains of paper
and get to be out on the streets sometimes?
And this, from Sergeant Johnson, who finds that most cop movies make him
want to puke. “They’re all about this man of action. Man of
action? I’m a man of writing reports.
OUR PANEL OF COP MOVIE
Officer Jim Lawrence, Officer Rafe Cancio, Officer Bob Gorgone, Officer
Garth Edwards, Officer Jerry Cioeta, Officer Jeff Helfrich, Detective
John Brooks, Sergeant Detective Scott Johnson, Sergeant Brian Schmautz
and Captain Mike Bell.
is Program Director and Movie Critic for Newstalk 860 KPAM.