The Fuzz, the 5-O, G-men, they’ve battled criminals, saved Gotham and thwarted Hans Gruber year upon year, so what is it? Why is there always at least one cop movie every season? I’d argue it’s because they are the emissary’ to the darkest, cruelest aspects of the human imagination. Sent to investigate and explore our deepest secrets and most forbidden desires. They are the means to telling such stories, such crimes and without them, we’re just witnesses, accessories after the fact.
This is a list of my top ten law enforcement agents whether they be detectives, police officers or desk clerks all are here for a reason and that reason being it’s my list. Enjoy.
Melvin Purvis – Public Enemies
Having captured the more public enemies that anyone in the whole of the history of the FBI, Melvin Purvis was and still arguably the most effective detective (trademarking that phrase as we speak). The job of portraying him in against of his biggest take downs John Dillinger was a task set for Christian Bale. Bale brings Purvis to ridged, stiffening life with a performance perfectly representative of those early no nonsense lawmen that shaped american criminal law into what it is today.
Jim Malone – The Untouchables
Featuring one of the worst Irish accents ever attempted by a Scott, Sean Connery’s role as traditional beat police officer Jim Malone gives the audience an officer to remember. Jim isn’t one for nonsense and as god as his only witness Jim will do whatever it takes to bully out a confession. Malones on screen death still remains one of my all time favourite last stands. Even when you think he’s dead and they arrive on the scene days, weeks later even he’s still bloody alive. Harder than the bullets they attempted to mow him down with.
Chen Wing Yan – Infernal Affairs
Those familiar with Scorsese will understand when I tell them this is Leo’s character, it makes me sick having to write that but it’s needed to help those less fortunate who have not seen the original to fully understand. Tony Leung’s portrayal as the cop without the badge infiltrating Hong Kong’s largest crime syndicate is nothing short of phenomenal. This heart wrenching, edge of your seat, tragic story of an undercover cop unable to reveal his identity is perfectly told through the sleepless, worn and highly drugged up eyes of detective Chen Wing Yan. Tony Leung is one of Hong Kong cinemas’ greatest talents so much so that you could argue the only reason Scorsese even considered a shameless carbon copy of this movie was down to the performance Leung gave as a hard boiled cop, pushed to the edge then push a little more.
John McClane – Die Hard
As if I was going to make a list about cops and not mention everybody’s favourite Christmas party savior. John McClane is just one man and a vest pitted against an army of non regional specific German baddies. He’s a true american hero with the bruises and scars to prove it. As an audience we love an outnumbered underdog don’t we? And although there’s never a moment of doubt that McClane isn’t going to overcome everything that’s thrown at him, we still enjoy watching him suffer for us, suffer and say funny one liners (catchphrases).
Nicholas Angel – Hot Fuzz
Simon Pegg nails this role as the ‘by the book’ no nonsense law man thrust into a world where the nosense is the topic of the day, everyday. We can feel his frustration and by the end we’re begging to get back to reality or for someone to just listen to him, to take him seriously and of course our prayers are answered in the end, in the form of glorious gun fire and a true supermarket sweeps.
Inspector ‘Tequila’ Yuen – Hard Boiled
Imagine a world in which the stakes couldn’t get any higher for our hero, the tough edged Inspector Yuen played adequately by Chow Yun-Fat. Now imagine the possibility of any scenario turning into a gun fight at the drop of a hat (or the flight of a dove) and finally imagine that the physical concept of ammunition of said gunfights didn’t exist in the slightest. Pulling a trigger meant you could shoot until your finger eventually gives in to arthritis. That’s John Woo’s Hard Boiled and that finger belongs to Inspector Yuen.
This film also stars the brilliant Tony Leung as mentioned in Infernal Affairs.
Marge Gunderson – Fargo
Fargo is many things, but straight forward story telling it isn’t. Frances McDormand’s portrayal of the quiet but persistent and heavily pregnant cop Marge Gunderson manages to claw back to audiences a sense of reality and what is just and right in the world. Gunderson as a character written by the Coen’s is a perfect creation and one highly worthy of the Oscar award to McDormand she’s both the nicest person in the world and the most relentless. Her finest moment and indeed the films was making us believe she’d found a vital clue in the snow which turned out to be morning sickness.
Max – Mad Max
In the lawless Australian wastelands Mel Gibson is taking revenge against a biker gang that killed his family and destroyed his very reason for living, he’d mad, mad as hell! Mad Max is an interesting character for examining the lengths people will go to feel right in the world and restore order. What could be more right than a cop running down his families killers and murdering them in cold blood, an eye for an eye I suppose. Mad Max’s humanity is constantly called into question as he endlessly seeks to play out his revenge no matter what the cost. Mad Max is the very definition of the phrase ‘on the edge’.
Lt. Vincent Hanna – Heat
To date my favourite performance by the great Al Pacino and yes I’ve seen the Godfathers. Pacino’s performance as the highly strung, never lost a case, detective Hanna is explosive to say the least. Pacino takes this character and throws him at us with such force and impact that there can be no shelter from his prowess. The brilliance comes from Pacino striking the perfect balance of the unhinged, borderline deranged without being annoying, too shouty or in fact too inhuman. For instance Lt. Vincent cares deeply for his step daughter played by Natalie Portman and we watch as his unstoppable wild heart slow to regular pace and slowly break. Lt Vincent is a driven, hard boiled and intelligent detective superbly pitted against De Niro’s calm, majestic qualities as master thief Neil McCauley. Honestly, this cop is probably my No.1. Pacino has, I’m telling you, never been better.
Bonus round – Worst Movie Cop
Rick Deckard – Blade Runner
Doesn’t catch a single culprit, fumbles his way through the film. Harrison Ford better hope Deckard was supposed to be a replicant, his performance couldn’t be more robotic.