With this weekend's release of Antoine Fuqua's Brooklyn's Finest -- his return to the cops-and-corruption turf that turned Training Day into a success (well, with a little help from Denzel) -- it seems that right about now would be as good a time as any for our Cinematical Seven series to take a look at our favorite on-screen boys in blue.
This would usually be the point where I confess as to whichever supposedly classic titles in the running I haven't seen and have already shamed myself for not including. Well, in this case, I was able to drum up more than enough candidates, so unless you happen to share an overwhelming fondness for the likes of Prince of the City or Cop Land, this list shouldn't seem too blasphemous. (Your comments and input remain welcome as always.)
1. John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Die Hard (1988)
A New York cop in Los Angeles may be very much out of his jurisdiction, but when terrorists crash your company's Christmas Eve party, I can imagine few individuals more capable of dispatching each and every baddie with bare feet and a bad attitude than John McClane. He's not only the closest thing to a cowboy the genre has to offer (as if his signature line didn't give that up), but he's got to be one dedicated husband if he flies this far and then works this hard to save his estranged wife and, one would think, their strained marriage. (Of course, that was a matter best left torn asunder by sequels to come.)
2. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Dirty Harry (1971)
Want to know why Lethal Weapon's Martin Riggs didn't make the list? Because Harry here was the original loose-cannon cop, hell-bent on getting his man and breaking the rules to do so. He serves justice when the system cannot, never harming bystanders and almost always plugging the criminals without due process because, hey, when you have a .44 Magnum in your hand, who needs it?
3. Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) in Serpico (1973)
Want to know why L.A. Confidential's Ed Exley isn't on this list either? Because Serpico's story beat his to the punch, as the real-life NYC police officer took a stand against corruption in his real-life ranks before being immortalized by Al Pacino in Sidney Lumet's film. A piece we ran about the man and the movie in January drew plenty of divisive comments, but speaking strictly in terms of Pacino's performance, he's a somewhat self-righteous but undeniably dedicated paragon of integrity at a time and in a place where that was the last thing anybody wanted.
4. Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in The Untouchables (1987)
Similarly idealistic to Exley and Serpico, Costner's real-life G-man took down Al Capone despite a Mob-infiltrated police department and slippery legal system. He's not as much of a golden boy in the film version as he'd like to be, because not only does it take some bluffing on his part to ensure that Capone gets put away, but he also allows himself revenge against his right-hand assassin, Frank Nitti (Billy Drago). I mean, he fell from that roof. That ain't against the law.
5. "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) in The French Connection (1971)
Continuing with the true-life trend, Hackman took home the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the narcotics officer who couldn't quit. He'll commandeer the nearest car in order to chase down a would-be assassin on a getaway subway train, and he'll let loose on any bothersome fed looking to interfere with his drug bust. I was tempting to work in director William Friedkin's similarly taut To Live and Die in L.A., but the determined cops in that film are far harder to redeem in a moral sense than Doyle would be.
6. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) in Hot Fuzz (2007)
What other cop in movies is too good for his force? Pegg's straight-faced super-cop, easily an amalgam of all the ones listed and more, is shipped off to sleepy Sandford after overachieving and essentially embarrassing his fellow officers in London, and even then, he proceeds to crack a case and take on the entire town almost single-handedly and without killing a single suspect. It's a good thing the man likes his paperwork...
7. RoboCop (Peter Weller) in RoboCop (1987)
He's a f**king robot police officer. Win. (Also acceptable: the ED-209. See below.)