Know Your Evil Movie Cops


Rampart, Owen Moverman’s tough urban drama featuring Woody Harrelson as a somewhat less than principled LA police officer, goes into limited release tomorrow (following a brief Oscar-qualification run in November), and while the movie itself is pretty good, we must take some exception to its bold poster and trailer tag line: “The most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen.” Well, that is a might tall claim. After the jump, we’ll run down ten previous movie cops who could give Harrelson’s Dave Brown a run for his money.

“Dirty” Harry Calahan, the Dirty Harry movies IN A NUTSHELL: San Francisco vigilante with a badge. CRIMES: Frequent use of unnecessary force, a somewhat less than reverential view of due process, overuse of the whispered growl. EVIL RATING: 1. Sure, he kills 45 people over the course of the five films in the series, appointing himself judge, jury, and executioner, but hey — at least they were all criminals! (We hope.)

Mike McCluskey, The Godfather IN A NUTSHELL: Crooked Irish cop turned target practice for the Godfather-to-be. CRIMES: Pulling Don Vito Corleone’s hospital security detail (presumably so Sollozzo can finish the job of killing him), socking Michael Corleone in the jaw (and breaking it), getting “mixed up in drugs” and “mixed up in the rackets.” EVIL RATING: 2. McCluskey is, as Michael notes, dishonest — but he doesn’t actually pull the trigger on the Don himself, and doesn’t do anything close to the dirt of some of the other cops on the list. He shouldn’ta hit Michael like that, though. Damn shame.

Colin Sullivan, The Departed IN A NUTSHELL: Career-long mole — given the job of flushing out a mole. CRIMES: Secretly working for the boss of an organized crime family, attempting to flush out the undercover man in said crime family, allowing several cops to die in order to protect his identity. EVIL RATING: 4. It’s hard to apply the word “evil” to a character played by likable, aw-shucks Matt Damon, but Sullivan is one rotten egg.

Hank Quinlan, Touch of Evil IN A NUTSHELL: Bloated, bullying border cop. CRIMES: Planting evidence to gin up a perfect arrest rate, arranging the kidnapping and drugging of our protagonist’s wife, then strangling another man and framing her for the crime. EVIL RATING: 6. Orson Welles (who also directs) plays this slimy scumbag to the hilt; when Pete Menzies calls him a killer and he replies, “Partly. I’m a cop,” it makes your skin crawl.

Dennis Peck, Internal Affairs IN A NUTSHELL: Pretty boy, model cop, dirty as the day is long. CRIMES: Sleeping with his partner’s wife, planting evidence, shooting suspects, arranging the murder of his partner before killing the killer. EVIL RATING: 7. It might be lower if he weren’t played by Richard Gere, whom we always knew was secretly very, very evil.

Dudley Smith, L.A. Confidential IN A NUTSHELL: Warm and friendly on the surface, cold and steely underneath. CRIMES: Overseeing a corrupt and brutal police force, ordering countless hits, killing Kevin Spacey, calling everybody “boyo.” EVIL RATING: 8. Part of the shock of Smith’s dark side comes from his portrayal by James Cromwell, then only known for playing the kindly farmer in Babe. He slips into this evil persona with a frightening ease; if Dudley Smith met Babe, he’d be enjoying a bacon sandwich within the hour.

Alonzo Harris, Training Day IN A NUTSHELL: “King Kong ain’t got nothin’ on me!” CRIMES: Stealing drug money, shooting a drug dealer, getting mixed up with the Russian mob, making poor Ethan Hawke smoke PCP. EVIL RATING: 9. Flavorwire favorite Denzel Washington won a well-deserved Oscar for turning his good-guy image on its head as the mean, tough, nasty Detective Harris; it takes about two seconds for the viewer to get sucked into his scary world.

Terence McDonagh, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans IN A NUTSHELL: Thieving, whoring, druggie cop — circa 2009. CRIMES: Full-on drug addiction, consorting with drug dealers, stealing from evidence rooms, waving guns at old ladies. EVIL RATING: 9. His actual crimes don’t always rival the other immortal crooked cops on the list (or those of the film this is a sort-of-but-not-really sequel/remake/reboot of), but as played by a particularly unhinged Nicolas Cage — and that’s saying something — he’s a terrifyingly gonzo bad guy who seems capable of just about anything.

Stansfield, Leon (aka The Professional) IN A NUTSHELL: Drug-addicted, shotgun-wielding psychotic. CRIMES: Chewing up prescription drugs like candy, taking out an entire family over a drug deal gone awry, egregious (but enjoyable) overacting. EVIL RATING: 10. Hey Stans, who are you more evil than? (Answer below.)

The Lieutenant, Bad Lieutenant IN A NUTSHELL: Thieving, whoring, druggie cop — circa 1992. CRIMES: Gambling, shooting up, verbally assaulting teenage girls, picking up hookers, public masturbation — you name it, pretty much. EVIL RATING: 10. It could be the film’s grubby aesthetic, or it could be Harvey Keitel’s no-apologies, take-no-prisoners performance. But this is, for us, the ultimate “bad cop” movie — glum, relentless, depressing, yet powerful and unforgettable. Keitel is the bad lieutenant; everyone else is a pale imitation.

Agree? Disagree? Who’s missing? Let us know in the comments.