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Here Are 13 Corrupt Cops On Film We Love to Hate

Here Are 13 Corrupt Cops On Film We Love to Hate

Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of May’s Indie Film Month. “Filth” is currently available to view On Demand.

In the raunchy comedy-crime film “Filth” (out now in theaters and available to view on video-on-demand platforms), James McAvoy stars as a less-than-saintly cop. In honor of “Filth” and McAvoy’s memorable character, Indiewire has decided to compile a list of some of film’s most rotten men in blue.

READ MORE: James McAvoy on Getting ‘Filth’-y for a Career Redefining Performance

1. Harvey Keitel as The Lieutenant in “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) 

Although the film title pretty much gives it away, Keitel’s lieutenant in Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant” is pretty despicable right from the get-go. He does a couple bumps of cocaine after dropping his kids off at school and looks the other way while a thief robs cars. It’s not exactly kosher behavior for the kind of man who’s supposed to lay down the law. “Bad Lieutenant” provides a portrait of a man out of control, and throughout, he becomes increasingly more destructive: passing out drunk, gambling compulsively and engaging in some pretty misogynistic antics too. The film epitomizes the dirty cop trope. In fact, it does it so well that Werner Herzog decided to make a sort-of sequel (which also tops this list), “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” 

2. Nicolas Cage as Terence McDonagh in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (2009)

In this re-imagining of the aforementioned “Bad Lieutenant,” Cage’s crooked cop is just as “bad” as Keitel’s. Early in the movie, McDonagh is promoted to Lieutenant after risking his well being to rescue an inmate in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (albeit after procrastinating by mocking the drowning convict). Due to his ensuing back injury, he gets hooked on Vicodin. Predictably, he falls into addiction to painkillers and other hard drugs, is indebted to a violent bookie and begins using immoral methods to get his man. But hey, being in love with a prostitute (a weird staple of Nic Cage characters) is still love, right?

3. Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault in “Casablanca” (1943)
An excellent foil to Humphrey Bogart’s elegant and iconic Rick Blaine, Captain Renault was a generous enough officer, but only as long as he was getting his share of the benefit. After years of cashing in on the underground gambling going on at Rick’s Cafe, he begins making arrests only after it gets in the way of his taking advantage of a troubled girl, and he still makes sure to collect his chips from the night. All is well that ends well I suppose, as Louis and Rick begin what could be a beautiful friendship.

4. Matt Damon as Lieutenant John Sullivan in “The Departed” (2006)

In Martin Scorsese’s cavernous crime thriller everyone has an agenda, a dark side or secrets. Matt Damon’s Johnny Sullivan, Massachusetts state police wunderkind is the darkest, most twisted and most secretive of all. His life was an embodiment of the “long con,” and during his elaborate game of cat and mouse with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan, Sullivan stabs a bystander and trades police secrets in a dirty movie theater. It is no surprise that when the end of the movie comes around (SPOILER) he doesn’t even pretend to be surprised that he has to be killed. Enter: Symbolic image of a rat waltzing in front of the state house.

5. Ed Harris as Detective Sergeant Remy Bressant in “Gone Baby Gone” (2007)
One can argue that almost everyone in Ben Affleck’s directorial debut “Gone Baby Gone” is dirty in some sort of way. Still, Ed Harris’ crummy Detective Sergeant Remy Bressant is one of the worst (SPOILER ALERT). He conspires with the uncle of Amanda, a young child who was abducted and presumed dead, all for cash. It’s a huge deception and central to the conflict in the film, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River” and “Shutter Island”). Greed seems to be one of the driving forces for naughty behavior, especially in law enforcement, and this is never more apparent than in “Gone Baby Gone.”

6. Matthew McConaughey as Detective Joe Cooper in “Killer Joe” (2011) 
Before “Dallas Buyers Club” and “True Detective” truly solidified his career as an actor to take seriously, Matthew McConaughey appeared in the black comedy film “Killer Joe.” Directed by Oscar winner William Friedkin (“The French Connection” and “The Exorcist”), “Killer Joe” follows detective Joe Cooper, cop by day, hit man by night who immerses himself in a family murder plot. 

7. James Cromwell as Captain Dudley Smith in “L.A. Confidential” (1997)
Every great crime film — and this is a great crime film — needs a villain. “L.A. Confidential” is interesting to watch because for so much of the film, there is not one. At least, he is invisible, nicknamed Rolo Tomassi: “The guy who gets away with it.” In a shocking and bloody reveal (SPOILER), Cromwell’s loose with the rules captain shows his dark side. In the Los Angeles Police Department of the period, fabricating evidence and authorizing some beatings can be overlooked, but Dudley seems to be responsible for innumerable killings. Only in the world of “L.A. Confidential” would he still be considered the hero.
8. Gary Oldman as Norman Stansfield in “Léon: The Professional” (1994)

Gary Oldman’s done a lot throughout his long career, but in Luc Besson’s “Léon: The Professional” he does crazy cop like no on else. Oldman plays Stansfield, a corrupt and drug-addicted DEA agent who will stop at nothing to get his hands on his drugs — which includes murdering an entire family. While most of the film focuses on the father-mentor relationship between Natalie Portman’s Mathilda and Jean Reno’s Leon, Oldman gives a captivating performance that is equal parts frightening and amusing.
9. Keanu Reeves as Detective Tom Ludlow in “Street Kings” (2008)

Keanu Reeves is a serious actor, and his slightly muted expression palette lends his abilities to stern, cold characters. Never has he been better than as Detective Tom Ludlow in David Ayer’s 2008 Los Angeles police corruption drama, “Street Kings.” As one of the last gunslingers, a hired enforcer who does what’s necessary even when it goes well beyond procedure, Reeves is given one of the best introductions for any corrupt cop on film. He wakes up in the late afternoon, throws up, cleans his gun under an American flag, drives into the slums of L.A., orders three airplane bottles of vodka, picks a fight with some Asian using horrifically racist language, then follows them home and kills every one of them to save young women about to be sold into the sex trade. It’s an ugly movie, and Reeves crafts an aptly disturbing antihero to take you through it.
10. Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris in “Training Day” (2001)

In his Oscar-winning performance for the crime-drama “Training Day,” Denzel Washington not only reveals the worst in law enforcement, but also shows how easy it is to lose yourself in the job. He plays revered narcotics cop Alonzo Harris, who is put in charge of a rookie cop, played by Ethan Hawke. It’s a day-in-the-life look at one of the most challenging sects of the police department. Alonzo has grown jaded his work, creating his own twisted sort of justice. He steals from drug dealers, gambles and reveals himself to be a man lacking any sort of moral compass. It’s a powerful portrayal, one of Washington’s best.

11. Kevin Bacon as Sergeant Ray Duquette in “Wild Things” (1998)

A murder, con-artist and on top of it all a peeping-tom, Duquette is a slimy representation of a police officer in John McNaughton’s 1998 suspense film “Wild Things.” Being trusted to cover a case after two girls accuse their guidance counselor of rape should not, for a benevolent cop anyway, end by swimming with the fishes, but Sgt. Duquette had it coming. He is responsible for at least two murders and was involved in a multi-billion dollar scheme. Good thing the force had its wits about it and took away his pension. Kevin Bacon cannot be blamed though. Only five years later he played a detective as good as they come in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River.”

12. Woody Harrelson as David Brown in “Rampart” (2011)

A principled man, Dave Brown’s single defense of his behavior is that he hates everybody indiscriminately. As if living with your two sister ex-wives and maintaining sexual relations with them both — and others — weren’t slimy enough, Dave is caught on videotape brutally beating a man with whom he had just had a car accident. That as well as other scandals involving a grocery store hold up and internal police corruption only serve to shine a light on his demented racism and misogyny in “Rampart,” for which Harrelson was nominated for a Spirit Award.

13. Ray Liotta as Detective Henry Oak in “Narc” (2002)

When Jason Patric’s Detective Tellis asks to be partnered with Detective Oak, higher-ups are hesitant, citing Oak’s unstable history. Over the remainder of “Narc”‘s run time we are shown why. Of course, what the force could not have known is that Oak was actually brought on to search for himself, as he is the man who killed a fellow police officer… or is he? The constant throughout this twisting mystery is Oak’s violent streak and inability to cooperate. Beating confessions out of men you know to be guilty is one thing, but Oak attempts to bludgeon confessions from men who he knows are totally innocent, and that’s pretty bad.

Indiewire has partnered with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand to
kick off May’s Indie Film Month. Enjoy exceptionally creative and
uniquely entertaining new Indie releases (“Joe,” “The Double,” “Grand
Piano,” and more) along with classic, Throwback 
Thursday indie titles (“500 Days of Summer,” “Pulp Fiction,” and more) – all month long on Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand. Go HERE
for movie reviews, interviews, and exclusive footage of the suggested
TWC movie of the day and catch the best Indie titles on 
TWC Movies On Demand

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