Ten bad cops: Hollywood's meanest law enforcers

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Time Out Film honours the nastiest and most crooked movie cops

‘Every cop is a criminal’ according to Mick Jagger’s ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, and as the victim of a dubious drug bust, he knew whereof he sang. In the explosive new movie ‘Rampart’, Woody Harrelson takes the classic cinematic archetype of the corrupt policeman to new heights with his portrayal of violent, womanising, borderline racist ghetto patrolman, ‘Date Rape’ Dave Brown. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to dig through the criminal records and come up with a list of our favourite felonious flatfoots.

Is there anyone we’ve missed? Or do you think some of these guys are just misunderstood? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box provided.

By Edward Lawrenson and Tom Huddleston

Captain Louis Renault from 'Casablanca'

Name and rank Captain Louis Renault from ‘Casablanca’ (1942), police chief of the Vichy-controlled Moroccan capital, played with urbane charm by Claude Rains.

Worst offence Well, he shamelessly cosies up to the Nazis, inveigles young immigrants into his bed, takes bribes and deports political refugees back to near-certain death in Europe. It was unusual in those days for Hollywood to depict an officer of the law in such unforgiving light, but then he was French.

Mitigating behaviour Turning a blind eye to the shooting of a top Nazi and showing impeccable taste by initiating a ‘beautiful friendship’ with Humphrey Bogart.

Hank Quinian from 'Touch of Evil'

Name and rank Grandiose, amoral powerhouse Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) from the Texas police department in Welles’s own ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958).

Worst offence You name it. Planting evidence, anti-Mexican bigotry, kidnapping and murder, Quinlan was the most bloated example of film noir’s obsession with the wrong arm of the law.

Mitigating behaviour He might have been a 'lousy cop' but in the eyes of Marlene Dietrich, or at least the woman she played, he was also 'some kind of man' – which is praise enough for us.

Captain McCluskey from 'The Godfather'

Name and rank Bent Irish mob patsy Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) of the NYPD, in ‘The Godfather’ (1972).

Worst offence Quite apart from being irredeemably corrupt, he assaults that nice young man Michael Corleone and breaks his jaw.

Mitigating behaviour None! And he’s punished accordingly, popped in the head by Al Pacino in an Italian restaurant before he even gets a chance to order an espresso macchiato.

John Davis in 'Magnum Force'

Name and rank Before he was Hutch (and a swoon-inducing pop star to boot), David Soul made a splash as eerie Aryan psycho-cop John Davis in the first and best ‘Dirty Harry’ sequel, ‘Magnum Force' (1973).

Worst offence It takes a fair amount of filthy behaviour to make Dirty Harry look squeaky clean, but Davis is up to the task: with his similarly inclined rookie pals, the Death Squad, he embarks on a campaign of violence intended to scare LA’s criminal community into obeying the law.

Mitigating behaviour None, as such: despite a severe dressing down from his hero, he fails to see the error of his ways, and ends up on the sharp end of Harry’s own brand of justice.

Detective-Sergeant Johnson in 'The Offence'

Name and rank Detective-Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery), a long-serving officer in an unidentifiably grim part of 1970s provincial England, in Sidney Lumet’s unremittingly bleak ‘The Offence’ (1972).

Worst offence After years of loyal service, Johnson beats up and kills a suspected child rapist in his custody. And the violence continues with a savage, unrelenting verbal attack on his wife.

Mitigating behaviour In one of his most nuanced performances, Connery helps to humanise Johnson, his explosive rage the result of years of dutiful repression. But nothing excuses those mutton-chop sideburns…

Detective Azuma in 'The Violent Cop'

Name and rank Detective Azuma (Takeshi Kitano) of the Tokyo Police Department, in the Kitano-directed ‘The Violent Cop’ (1989).

Worst offence As you might surmise from the title, Azuma isn’t the kind of cop you’d meet at anger-management workshops. From the shoot-first-ask-questions-later school of law enforcement, Azuma takes a baton to police ethics following the suicide of his colleague, battering it into a lifeless pulp much like his many suspects.

Mitigating behaviour Azuma’s tactics are indefensible, but – as played by director-star Takeshi Kitano – he perpetrates them with a certain deadpan cool.

Unnamed cop in 'Bad Lieutenant'

Name and rank An unnamed gamblaholic NYPD beat-cop (Harvey Keitel) in Abel Ferrara’s 1992 ‘Bad Lieutenant’.

Worst offence Taking bribes? Or perhaps smoking crack while on duty and stealing from the drug dealers? Or hang on, maybe it’s the time he masturbates in the presence of a couple of teenage girls? All in all, the guy lives up – or down – to the title, and he’s much more of a serious badass than Nic Cage’s 2009 take on the role.

Mitigating behaviour Incredibly – thanks to the pulpy Catholicism of director Abel Ferrara’s vision – there is a kind of redemption here. We won’t spoil things by revealing too much, but let’s just say Jesus makes a cameo for a spot of final-reel plea-bargaining.

Captain Dudley Smith in 'LA Confidential'

Cop killing Captain Dudley Smith is the sinister looking guy on the left Cop killing Captain Dudley Smith is the sinister looking guy on the left

Name and rank Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) of the LAPD in Hollywood expose ‘LA Confidential’ (1997).

Worst offence You don’t consult crime novelist James Ellroy for examples of police probity, and so it is with this stunning adaptation of his account of corruption in the City of Angels. All the men in blue are rotten by varying degrees, but the medal of shame must go to the scheming, ruthless cop-killer Captain Smith.

Mitigating behaviour Are you kidding?

Detective Alonzo Harris in 'Training Day'

Name and rank Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), from the narcotics department of the LAPD in ‘Training Day’ (2001).

Worst offence Murdering drug dealers, then divvying up their stash with his equally corrupt colleagues. And being horrible to Ethan Hawke, who is used to much more pleasant partnerships, like hanging out with Julie Delpy in Paris, discussing stuff.

Mitigating behaviour Not really, but Denzel made such a ferociously good job of being bad, he was rewarded with an Oscar.

Chan Wing-yan in 'Infernal Affairs'

Name and rank Chan Wing-yan (Tony Leung), of the Hong Kong Police Department in rip-roaring 2003 thriller ‘Infernal Affairs’.

Worst offence Working deep undercover as a Triad member, Chan does some pretty naughty things to impress his crime kingpin boss.

Mitigating behaviour Is Chan just acting a role or is he as bad as the mobsters he’s working alongside? And is this a straight-up cop thriller or a teasing exploration of identity that takes inspiration from the Buddhist associations of its Chinese title – the lowest circle of hell, apparently? It’s all a bit too complicated really, but one definite virtue is that it inspired a damn fine Martin Scorsese picture when he remade it as ‘The Departed’.


Users say

3 comments
sam
sam

Without Gary Oldman's sociopath DEA cop in Leon: The Professional, this list is wanting.

michael
michael

William Peterson's cop in To Live & Die In LA....

Cass P
Cass P

Dirty Harry is BAD- but in a good way. And what about Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in The French Connection? Not exactly an angel either.