Filth, featuring a thoroughly unpleasant James McAvoy, hits cinemas, Michael Hogan rounds up the 10 nastiest and/or most corrupt police officers ever committed to celluloid.
Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (Filth, 2013)
Jon S Baird’s funny, frenetic adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel is a cracking comedy-drama about the wrong arm of the law. James McAvoy gives the performance of his career as the bigoted, bipolar, drug-guzzling Detective Sergeant who turns his Lothian constabulary colleagues against one another by stealing their wives, exposing their secrets and telling blatant lies, all in the ruthless pursuit of promotion. As the tagline says: “It’s a filthy job getting to the top, but somebody’s got to do it.”
Captain Mark McCluskey (The Godfather, 1972)
The Irish mob patsy, played by baggy-faced Sterling Hayden in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece, wasn’t just deeply corrupt – he also assaulted that nice young man Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and broke his jaw. Clearly the lanky NYPD schmuck had to get whacked. He was duly lured to an Italian restaurant and as he filled his face, got popped in the neck and forehead by Michael, falling face first into his spaghetti and breaking the table. That’ll learn him.
The unnamed Lieutenant (Bad Lieutenant, 1992)
“I’ve done so many bad things!” Harvey Keitel got his willy out, wailed like a walrus and chewed up the scenery as the nameless NYPD homicide detective in Abel Ferrara’s 1992 indie classic. When we meet him, he’s in a downward spiral of drugs, booze, gambling and hookers, but the investigation of a nun’s brutal rape offers him a shot at redemption. Does he take it? Or does he just “polish his truncheon” in front of two teen traffic offenders, then weep in the nude again? Ferrara’s film spawned a rather less culty 2009 follow-up, directed by Werner Herzog and starring notoriously subtle actor Nicolas Cage.
Captain Dudley Smith (L.A. Confidential, 1997)
“Off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush.” This 1997 neo-noir gem, adapted from James Ellroy’s novel, recreated the seedy underbelly of 1950s Hollywood. Uptight Lieutenant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and ball-busting Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) hated each other and fought over high-class hooker Kim Basinger but ultimately united to root out the ruthlessly corrupt kingpin within the LAPD. When they got their man, the reveal was a genuine jaw-dropper. Surely it can’t be that grandfatherly police captain played by James Crowell, aka Farmer Hoggett from Babe? Oh. He’s shot Kevin Spacey.
Inspector Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry, 1971)
Go ahead, make his day. One of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic roles was rugged San Francisco detective “Dirty” Harry Callahan in a series of five films, released between 1971 and 1988 (with diminishing returns). Harry set a template for a new kind of anti-hero: a vigilante with a badge who was prepared to kill criminals for the greater good and didn’t let a little thing like the law stand between justice and injustice. Most memorably of all, he carried a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, “the most powerful handgun in the world”. Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?
The Sheriff Of Nottingham (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, 2009)
This 1991 retelling of ye olde Robin Hood tale was ruined by Kevin Costner’s mullet and that teeth-grindingly tedious Bryan Adams power-ballad from the soundtrack, which stayed at the top of the charts for a shameful 16 weeks. Its one saving grace was Alan Rickman’s scene-stealing, over-the-top turn as a sort of medieval corrupt cop, tyrannically ruling over the poor peasants with violence and sarcasm, snarling lines like: “Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.” The role was originally offered to Richard E Grant, factoid fans.
Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris (Training Day, 2001)
“King Kong ain’t sh*t on me!” This gritty 2001 LAPD anti-drug unit drama was dominated by Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning turn as charismatic Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris: a highly-decorated 13-year veteran of the streets with questionable methods, not to mention a habit of drinking, rutting and getting high on the job. Mentoring fresh-faced rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), they cruise the hood in Alonzo’s “G-Ride”, murdering drug dealers and divvying up their stashes. It pounded along to a pumping hip-hop soundtrack, while Macy Grey, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre all had cameos.
Captain Hank Quinlan (Touch Of Evil, 1958)
This virtuoso film noir, complete with its famous 3 minute 20 second opening tracking shot, is less celebrated than director and star Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, but arguably more enjoyable. Adding a fake nose and extra blubber to become extra-monstrous, Welles portrayed bloated Texan police chief Hank Quinlan, an amoral bully with a perfect arrest record. Quinlan always gets his man, usually by faking the evidence, but meets his match in Charlton Heston — playing a Mexican, in a notoriously strange piece of casting.
Patrolman Dennis Peck (Internal Affairs, 1990)
Slippery as an eel smeared in Vaseline, Richard Gere’s smoothly manipulative veteran patrolman played the entire LAPD for fools, mainly by having a bit of dirt on everyone or seducing their wives. Usually both. Enter crusading young Internal Affairs investigator Andy Garcia, who spots that Peck is living way beyond his mean and becomes determined to bring him down. The pair’s duel was made even more spicy by rumours that Gere and Garcia didn’t get along during filming and some of the punches the pair traded were for real.
Agent Norman Stansfield (Léon, 1994)
“I haven’t got time for this Mickey Mouse bullshit!” Gary Oldman always gives good creep but one of his most flesh-crawling roles was in Luc Besson’s stylish 1994 thriller as a crooked DEA agent, happy to kill anyone — yep, including kids — to get his way. Sweaty, stubbly and twitchy in a crumpled linen suit, the pill-popping psycho massacred Natalie Portman’s family while dancing to Beethoven, not realising she’d run down the hall to professional hitman Jean Reno — and the pair would plot his downfall. “Death is whimsical today…”
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