What happens when men in blue, sworn to protect and to serve, fly out of control? If we're lucky, we get a good movie out of it. If we're really lucky, we get a larger than life character to cheer and to fear. Are you feeling lucky, punk?
Keanu Reaves, of all people, will follow in the steel-toed shoes of some of cinema's finest as a cop who goes on an avenging rampage in David Ayer's Street Kings, which opens tomorrow. That made me reflect on my favorite out of control cinematic cops, men in blue who break free from the laws of god and man. Let us know who we missed in the comments section. But be nice, or we'll track you down and crack you over the head with a night stick.
1. Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry
Clint is so cool as Harry Callahan that he can just glare at bad guys and they give themselves up. Dirty Harry never met a criminal he couldn't beat up, a sergeant he couldn't hate, or a partner he couldn't get killed. He can't help it: he married justice a long time ago and the blind old bat won't leave him alone until he takes out the garbage. Don't even think about getting in his way: he solved the Zodiac killings in 102 minutes! Dirty Harry paved the way for several sequels and countless gruff, lone wolf outlaw police detectives.
2. Denzel Washington, Training Day
Oh, that killer smile! Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for playing Alonzo, an unrepentant bad cop who operates so far outside the law that he's created his own universe. He glories in his ill-gotten gains and justifies it as the only way to maintain law and order. (David Ayer wrote this one too.) Of course, Eva Mendes might make any man take the law into his own hands, but Alonzo didn't need any woman to lure him to the dark side of the force.
3. Russell Crowe, L.A. Confidential
You might prefer Guy Pierce, whose ambition eventually sends him over the edge, or James Cromwell, who is drunk on the power he wields, but there is something undeniably magnificent about Russell Crowe as Officer Wendell 'Bud' White in this movie. His character is on automatic overdrive, driven by instinct more than thought, never hesitating to pummel a suspect or leap to the defense of his brethren. He really loses it, though, when he pursues another pro operating on gut-level instinct (Kim Basinger). Maybe love is the greatest drug, after all.
4. Kurt Russell, Dark Blue
As Sgt. Eldon Perry, Kurt Russell is so far gone he doesn't remember ever being on the right side. He's a car wreck that's been smoldering for years, burning up his conscience and scattering his ashes among his colleagues. Russell internalizes all his years of playing likable good guys and compacts them into nuclear fission that can occasionally be seen in the glint of an eye or the swagger of his walk, which makes his character all the more disgustingly pathetic, the ruined high school football star who still talks about his glory days as though they ever really mattered. And yes, this is still another script by David Ayer.
5. Harrison Ford, Blade Runner
In the future, no one can hear you scream. Rick Deckard is nothing if not a hollow shell of the man he used to be, driven by some primitive sense of duty, which is probably why he makes for a (debatably) believable android. Ford is, unfortunately, never quite the acting equal of the intensely sad, desperate Rutger Hauer -- maybe they should have switched roles -- but Ford puts his everyman, gullible, "what are I doing here?" face to good use. Come to think of it, he might have been more out of control in Witness; what big city police detective in his right mind would be tempted by an Amish woman, even one who looks like Kelly McGillis?
6. Treat Williams, Prince of the City
Danny Ciello never seems more out of control than when he's working undercover in behalf of a task force assigned to expose a corrupt New York City police force in Sidney Lumet's modern Greek tragedy. Treat Williams nails the wild, self-destructive panic of Ciello, a man who became divided against himself, inexorably pushed toward betraying his best and most loyal comrades.
7. Orson Welles, Touch of Evil
The big man oozed an unpleasant odor of sleaze and corruption as Hank Quinlan, a border town sheriff entrenched on the wrong side of the law. He rules by fear and barely recognizes the difference between life and death. You get the sense that the cancer started in his bones and metastasized, as though he's just waiting to be put out of his misery by the overly righteous Mexican cop played by the mustachioed Charlton Heston.
We noticed that over at Rotten Tomatoes, Sara Schieron ran her own list of top ten bad cops yesterday. Go check out her piece to see what cops she thinks are the worst of the worst (or best of the best, depending on how you look at it ... )