#tbt reviews: on-screen cops that ooze with corruption


FullSizeRender (1)Jared McMillan // Film Critic

When it comes to the action genre, most viewers want something that will entertain them. However, to have just plain action without any tone of drama or humor underlying it leads to an empty feeling once the movie ends. The audience needs to be connected to everything that surrounds the action so the investment can lead to the feel of suspense and the urge to bite nails.

While there are several avenues that an action movie can go through, there seems to be something more intensive when adding moral ambiguity among the characters. Enter the dirty cop. Nothing gets an audience more invested than trying to figure out who the mole is in the precinct, or which cop is on the take. It adds a cat-and-mouse element to immediately intrigue the viewer and elicit a search for justice.

In John Hillcoat’s TRIPLE 9, a team of criminals and dirty cops are looking to lift certain merchandise for a sect of Russian mobsters. However, in order to complete the last leg of their score, the team looks to murder a cop, also known as a code 999. While the viewers know immediately who’s on what side, the story layers itself on a spectrum of good and evil to keep up appearances in search of a double-cross. Can the targeted cop sense out the dirty cops in time to save his own life?

While the law is meant to serve and protect, the possibility of corruption within our trusted protectors always gives the audience a sense of unease, even more so in today’s socio-political climate. The dirty cop makes the narrative feel voyeuristic, like we’re seeing something we’re not supposed to through this window known as a movie screen.

With this week’s release of TRIPLE 9, we at Fresh Fiction took a look at some of our favorite dirty cops in film.

Training_Day_2001_7442053-1Alonzo Harris – TRAINING DAY (2001)

Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his portrayal of a rogue narcotics officer who meets his fate in the form of a rookie at his first day on the job. Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, who was also nominated) gets paired up with Alonzo Harris, and is given a tour of every crime-ridden area in L.A. Trying to do his best to stay on the right side of things, he immediately sees that Harris has gone off the deep end and uses his power for his own influence.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, TRAINING DAY is mainly through the eyes of Hoyt, giving everything Harris does better value as the rookie goes further down the rabbit hole. From watching Harris pick and choose his spots, to smoking pot laced with PCP, Hoyt gets a rude awakening as his rookie day drags on.
The chemistry between Washington and Hawke is fantastic, the action isn’t too heavy handed, and the movie’s insanely quotable, earmarked by Harris losing it during his climactic speech (KING KONG AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ ON ME!). The only way TRAINING DAY works is by making the villain as over-the-top as possible, and making him a dirty cop gives a realization of corruption rather than camp.
– Jared McMillan

Screen shot 2016-02-25 at 11.12.26 AMColin Sullivan – THE DEPARTED (2006)

In Martin Scorsese’s epic thriller THE DEPARTED, there’s a trick at every turn and secrets to hide. For Massachusetts state police golden boy Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), living a double life and reporting to the mob has been fairly easy. He’s handsome, articulate and he’s just as charming as Damon himself. He plays a cat and mouse game with William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), that results in Sullivan stabbing a pedestrian in an alleyway, a falling out with his girlfriend, and a particularly brilliant scene where several people are shot in the head.

It goes without saying that Scorsese is brilliant, and THE DEPARTED is of his best films, but something has to be said of the way Damon is used in this role. Sullivan is playing the state police with his boyish good looks and undeniable charm that fast-tracked him to the top of his profession. It would be hard to believe that some may have never seen this film, but after ten years you’re fresh out of excuses.
– James Cole Clay

Screen shot 2016-02-25 at 11.09.44 AMDavid Douglas Brown – RAMPART (2011)

I remember the poster for Oren Moverman’s RAMPART reading “most corrupt cop ever seen on screen.” Is it true?

In the film, David Douglas Brown (Woody Harrelson) is one notorious bastard of a cop who upholds the law in his own special way, and that comes with a lot of trouble. Beating up people, running his profane and racist mouth– it’s a wonder how this man even made it past the exam period.

The DA is crawling up where the sun doesn’t shine and he has issues dealing with his home life. He lives in close proximity to both of his ex-wives (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche), who so happen to be sisters. Sick, right?

RAMPART certainly gives damning evidence for it to take the title its poster suggests. While the movie may be a bit of an endurance test, Harrelson, who also stars in TRIPLE 9 as a bit of a twisted cop as well, brings raw intensity to his unsentimental performance. He may seem like a monster to many, but he’s also human to the bitter end.
– Preston Barta

Screen shot 2016-02-25 at 11.14.56 AMHenry Oak – NARC (2002)

Looking at Ray Liotta’s career, he always plays either a criminal, a cop on the edge, or a flat-out sleazeball cop. From UNLAWFUL ENTRY to HANNIBAL to his current stint on NBC-drama SHADES OF BLUE, it seems to be a niche that he more than feels comfortable in. However, it’s his work as Henry Oak in NARC that is his most quality role since GOODFELLAS.

Oak is a different kind of dirty cop though. Det. Tellis (Jason Patric) is highly suspicious of him after his partner was murdered. Internal Affairs is also concerned about Oak, which is why they pull Tellis out of undercover to keep tabs on Oak: He’s a narc that’s been picked to narc. As the movie progresses, we feel something off about Oak although we’re not sure what it is.

The whole point of NARC is to point out the fact that the “black-and-whites” aren’t always black and white. Liotta’s characterization of Oak is decidedly volatile, putting the audience on edge as we don’t know what he’s capable of as a person. Oak is played so close to the vest that our suspicions are correct but not entirely what the viewer thinks. The film begins and ends in a gray area, just as Oak does.
– Jared McMillan

Screen shot 2016-02-25 at 11.16.13 AMJoe Cooper – KILLER JOE (2011)

Right before Matthew McConaughey emerged from the horrific depths of the romantic comedy landscape and onto Oscar gold, he began this “McConassiance” with both THE LINCOLN LAWYER and William Friedkin’s delightfully trashy KILLER JOE, which McConaughey plays the titular role.

The black comedy follows detective Joe Cooper, who pulls the good people of Texas over by day and helps a seriously fudged up family with a murder plot by night. McConaughey uses his slick southern draw to pull those he will prey upon into his grasp and uses that same wit to create a terrifying character that just may be one of his most daring works to date.
– James Cole Clay

TRIPLE 9 opens tomorrow.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.