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.
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?
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.
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.
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