A good cop is hard to find

In many ways, the Daniel Zammit case reads like a classic ‘corrupt cop’ thriller: police operating beyond their remit, in an ethical vacuum and entirely against the ‘serve and protect’ ethos. In a further illustration of how art tends to imitate life and vice-versa, Teodor Reljic takes a look at some cinematic crooked cops we love to hate… 

Frank Serpico (played by Al Pacino)
Frank Serpico (played by Al Pacino)

Serpico (1973), dir. Sidney Lumet

‘Many of his fellow officers considered him the most dangerous man alive – an honest cop’. So runs the tagline to Sidney Lumet’s enshrined cinema classic, the true story of Frank Serpico (played by Al Pacino), who refused to be complicit in the endemic corruption at the New York Police Department where he’d graduate from uniformed patrolman to a plainclothes officer. Adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name by Peter Maas, the film’s gritty realism, coupled with Pacino’s iconic performance, cements its reputation as a story about a hero surviving beyond the heroic trappings of Hollywood drama.

Bad Lieutenant (1992), dir. Abel Ferrara

The clue is in the title, folks. A career-defining film for both director Abel ‘King of Sleaze’ Ferrara and his lead actor Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant is often a tough film to watch, as our drug-taking, sports-gambling protagonist appears to have no remorse about his inclinations and his easy recourse to abuse of power. But unlike the Werner Herzog-directed, Nicholas Cage-starring 2009 remake (which only really shares a title and a corrupt cop protagonist with Ferrara’s original), Keitel’s Lieutenant is given a chance at some form of redemption towards the end… given Ferrara’s Catholic background, the baggage here should be familiar enough.

Training Day (2001), dir. Antoine Fuqua 

Bagging Denzel Washington a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and burdening director Antoine Fuqua with a gem on his CV that he has yet to live up to, Training Day plunges us deep into the Los Angeles underworld and the corrupt police networks that enable it to thrive. The key culprit here is Washington’s Detective Alonzo Harris, who puts rookie officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) through a 24-hour crash course in corrupt LAPD practices. Hooking Jake in with an enforced drug hit from the start, Alonzo proceeds to show how deep-rooted the rot is, encompassing the Russian Mafia as well as local gangs.

The Guard (2011), dir. John Michael McDonagh

The lightest entry on the list, this Irish police comedy is an odd-couple story, in which bad police practices – as engaged in by Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) – serve as a comedic counterpoint to the straitlaced FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), who hops over to Connemara, Ireland to collaborate with the locals on an international drug crackdown. Technically corrupt but also irresistibly likeable, Boyle has his heart in the right place, making it easy for us to forgive his lapses in professional behaviour.

UPCOMING: Black Mass (2015), dir. Scott Cooper

Boasting a stellar cast headlined by Johnny Depp, Black Mass will draw on the true story of Irish-American mobster Whitey Bulger – brother to a local state senator who forges a controversial alliance with the FBI just as he begins to rise in the criminal ranks.

HONOURABLE MENTION: The Wire (2002-2008), dir. Various

One of the shining jewels of the ‘TV revolution’, this HBO drama about the sprawling criminal Baltimore criminal underworld is a meticulous, often harrowing indictment of institutions collapsing under the weight of greed and corruption. With a rotating cast of characters dipping in and out of focus in each of the show’s five seasons, virtually every aspect of society – from the police to the political elite to education and the media – is eviscerated as being porous to contagion. 

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