Bacon On The Big Screen: A Guide To Police In Films

Those boys in blue come in many forms in Hollywood, from the good cop/bad cop buddy duo to the horror movie cop. Here's how to spot which kind of cop you're dealing with...
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Those boys in blue come in many forms in Hollywood, from the good cop/bad cop buddy duo to the horror movie cop. Here's how to spot which kind of cop you're dealing with...

Horror Movie Cop

We’ve all seen the poor guys in horror films summoned to a distress call during routine rounds. These poor fellows walk straight into the jaws of death (sometime not even making it out of their car). They do nothing for your faith in law enforcement and are often more sympathetic characters than the chronically annoying protagonists. Hence the parody ‘Doofy’ in Scary Movie which is more literal than you would actually think. Moral of the story. Call in back–up.

Double Team ‘Buddy Cop Movies’

Starsky and Hutch, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover…all good cop teams come in pairs and have since become a staple of the genre. With chemistry that often borders on homoerotic of the ‘you can be my wingman anytime’ variety, their escapades often revolve around arguments, slapstick gags and rolling over car bonnets in unison. Racial or background differences also help, turning strangers into companions: foe into friend (yawn). It’s a nice sentiment to view police – work as a perpetual lads’ holiday but as Edgar Wright referenced in Hot Fuzz, for every building that’s blown up, there’s also a tonne of paper-work.


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Bad Cop

‘I AM THE LAW’ etc.  With the amount of police brutality inherent in media, it’s interesting some of the more memorable cinematic cops are sociopaths, racists and violent thugs. As opposed to vigilantes and ‘honest Joes’ , they don’t break the law for a noble cause; they abuse it for pleasure because they can. From Harvey Keitel dealing drugs and enacting random violence, pill–popping Gary Oldman in Leon, Denzel Washington in Training Dayand Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco, these are cops who have lost faith in the system. They resort to the same practices of the criminals and betray the citizens they are paid to ‘protect and serve’. Bad cops are always more interesting characters and are likely to fare well critically in awards season. Who can forget Dirty Harry?

Comedic Cop

Being a cop lends itself to comedy pretty well. You’re expected to be up-tight and maintain a caring masquerade, while attempting to negotiate with complete morons on a day to day basis . In the case of Leslie Nielsen, known for the Naked Gunseries, he made a career making jokes about the size and circumference of his truncheon. It’s a laugh a minute with these cops but don’t go expecting realism.

Fantasy Cop

Alongside characterisation, dirty scoundrels and genital jokes , Sci–Fi and fantasy cinema have also had their wicked way with policeman, often taking the image and warping it for weird and wonderful results. From mounting metal onto Paul Weller in Robocop, proto fascist fantasy in the enforcers of Judge Dredd to the terrifying liquid terminator in Terminator 2,  police are a great blue–print for fantastic and exaggerated representations. Lest we forget the FBI agents in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks series.

Girl Power! – Female Cop

As a lot of the buddy cop films involve themes of male bonding and noble bravery in the face of adversity, a lot of 1980s cop pictures under-represented women in favour of minor supporting roles. From sarcastic FBI agent Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality becoming an icon for new–wave feminism to Jodie Foster’s incredible performance as Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, portrayals of  female cops are memorable because of their scarcity. Even in the modern market women rarely get major roles as police officers in film. It’s a genre (like the prison movie) that is aimed towards male audiences and their preoccupation with macho power struggles.