As a cracked lip wraith, eyes hiding in the shadows of a face scorched by the LA sun, Nicole Kidman’s Destroyer detective joins an illustrious precinct of cinema’s finest cops. In the tradition of her forebears, Kidman’s Erin Bell is burdened by the badge, inherently flawed, and capable of getting under your skin in an unshakeable fashion.
DESTROYER starring Nicole Kidman is out to download now and own on DVD/Blu-ray from Monday, the 27th of May.
Let’s imagine we can take a tour through a cinematic police department, and tip our caps to the sometimes honourable men and women who’ve served the silver screen since The Keystone Cops whizzed around in early 1900s monochrome.
It’s important to note that passing through the holding cell reveals a couple of badge holders who you’d ordinarily find marked out for distinction on a list like this. John McClane is there, disheveled, having just been told that he’s had enough written about him recently, and that he’ll only have six-months to wait before those Die Hard as Christmas movie think-pieces bail him out. Sat opposite him, but having much more fun, is Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons Movie, alongside Lieutenant Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun franchise. Not all of the cops on this list are perfect examples of their vocation or morality, but their lovable ineptitude prevents them from any form of ‘Best Cop’ commendation.
Instead, the name etched onto the glass of the chief’s office door would be the inimitable Marge Gunderson : the smart, intelligent heart of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, perfectly embodied by the perennially brilliant Frances McDormand. Her admonishment of Peter Stormare’s wood-chipping criminal, punctuated by a weary acceptance of “I just don’t understand it”, completely humanises her in the Coen’s world of heightened characters. There’s also the scene in which she does so little to disarm-him-with-charm William H. Macy’s ‘darn-tootin’ car salesman, which underlines not only McDormand’s ability to exercise fierce restraint, but also how well the character is written as a detective who doesn’t need a gimmick or plot contrivance to do her job.
Gunderson would have probably inherited the role from Morgan Freeman’s recently retired William Somerset, with one-too-many luxuriously-voiced Ernest Hemingway quotes forcing him to hang up the rain-soaked fedora. But during his Se7en tenure, Somerset cemented himself as one of the most layered characters in this precinct. David Fincher’s film isn’t one in which much hope can be found, but when the light slips through the cracks of his embattled exterior – in particular the dinner scene with Gwyneth Paltrow – it’s blinding, so much so that it makes the darkness of the ending that much more difficult to bear, long after the screen has gone black.
Moving away from the senior hierarchy, we’re now heading straight to the bullpen: the part of the station where wise-cracks hit harder than punches, feet rest on cluttered desks, and the sound of Eddie Murphy’s laugh reverberates off the walls like a cartoon bullet.
Beverley Hills Cop was a phenomenon: the highest grossing film of 1984 at the U.S. box-office, and until The Matrix Reloaded in 2003, the most successful R-rated movie of all time. The reason? Axel Foley. The smart-talking, class-defying, convention-flouting Detroit cop was the perfect character upon which a young Murphy could transfer his one-of-a-kind comedic skillset to. It’s a shot-in-the-arm performance for the genre, and it’s no surprise that over thirty years later, Hollywood is still trying to find a way to bring Axel Foley back.
Take a look around and you’ll recognise a familiar face sat alongside Foley: Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs is there trading buddy-movie stories from his genre-defining role in the Lethal Weapon franchise. Iconic cops have been introduced staring down the barrel of a gun, but few have been pointing it at themselves. Riggs is described as a “psycho son-of-a-bitch” within the opening fifteen minutes, and by the twenty minute mark he has his own pistol in his mouth. It’s the kind of pitch black character work that Shane Black (who also created Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry from 2005’s film-of-the-year Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) thrives upon, and by sending Riggs to the heart of darkness, it makes his partial rehabilitation when paired with Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh, that much more rewarding.
It’ll come as no surprise to learn that Black based the character of Riggs on one of his own favourite movie cops: Harry Callahan. Clint Eastwood’s hard-as-nails San Francisco police detective has long since left this department, but his influence is evident in the DNA of every weight-of-the-world badge holder since. In fact, the man who inspired the character of Dirty Harry, Zodiac killer investigator Dave Toschi, was memorably played by Mark Ruffalo in David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece.
Not all the officers in this line-up went to the Training Day graduation school of corrupt cops though. There are pictures of two rookies who look eerily similar to one-another hanging on the commendation wall. The first is Jack Traven. If you don’t immediately recognise the name, then how about the fact he saved a bus full of passengers in Jan De Bont’s Speed? His doppelganger was F.B.I agent Johnny Utah, who was part of an undercover operation that took down a gang of surfing bank robbers in Point Break. Keanu Reeves bought a straight-laced likeability to both roles, shorn of being burdened with an alcohol addiction, or similar vice, these are both heroic cops, who’ll do anything to catch the bad guy. There’s little wonder that Hot Fuzz’s PC Danny Butterman is obsessed with the latter.
We’re coming to the point where we’ll have to let this mix of eclectic cops get on with protecting and serving, and while we’ve not had time to check in with the Police Academy, you can rest assured that Mahoney is planning some kind of juvenile prank at the expense of Commandant Lassard, or that Hightower is climbing into a vehicle way too small for him. We’ve also missed the iconic Clarice Starling, who’s currently out in the field investigating baskets filled with lotion.
However, there’s one more door we haven’t looked through. A futuristic laboratory can be found behind it, and there in the middle of the room sits a cop with the “fastest reflexes modern technology has to offer, an on-board computer assisted memory, and a lifetime of on-the-street law-enforcement programming”. It is my great pleasure to present to you, Robocop.
Paul Verhoven’s satire on American culture, wrapped in the veneer of over-the-top sci-fi action, is a neo-Western with themes – corporate greed, government fraud, fear of technology – which echo through to today. At the heart of it all is this metallic cowboy, embodied by a towering Peter Weller, fighting to cling to his humanity in the face of the kind of corruption that a few of the cops on this list embrace as part of the job.
If your favourite hasn’t been on duty today, then chances are this isn’t Popeye Doyle (The French Connection), Vincent Hanna (Heat), or Bud White’s (L.A. Confidential) jurisdiction. The world of the movie cop is far reaching: from Judy Hop patrolling the multi-coloured streets of Zootopia, to Nicole Kidman stumbling through the dark LA underbelly in Destroyer. If you don’t agree with these choices, then maybe it’s time I hand over my badge and gun.