The Collapse of Cop Flicks
'STREET KINGS' AND KEANU REEVES CEMENT GOOD-GUYS-GONE-BAD TREND
by Sara Stewart
In "Street Kings," out Friday, Keanu Reeves is an LAPD officer who plays dirty, if he has to, to get the job done, and eventually discovers he's one of the least corrupt cops in an organization that's rotting from the head. It's directed by "Training Day" writer David Ayer, so this morally bankrupt state of affairs is not entirely surprising.
The "Street Kings" screenplay was co-written by James Ellroy, who specializes in noir, and, of course, no one really comes out well in noir. Ellroy's previous screenplays include "The Black Dahlia" and "L.A. Confidential," both of which trod similar territory, capturing the seedy side of vintage California cops.
But all this turning to the-dark side does make us wonder: Are there any good cops in film anymore? Enough with the gritty realism, the imperfection, the human folly - we want characters to believe in.
We want heroism. We're getting more than enough realism right here in reality. We want escapism.
The only really good cop in recent memory is Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff in the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men" one of the most depressing, if brilliant, movies of last year. But we hardly got the satisfaction of seeing a job well done; the bad guy gets away with it and the movie ends on the memory of a bad dream.
Bring back the Keanu Reeves of yore! In 1994's "Speed," he was a hothead cop but he was never tempted to fudge any evidence or do a bunch of wanton killing just to prove a larger point. He got the people off the bus. He ended up on top of Sandra Bullock, and lived happily ever after (especially since he didn't have to appear with her in "Speed 2").
Reeves' vapid undercover cop in 1991's "Point Break," while understandably drawn to Patrick Swayze's surf guru, never actually joined the ex-president-masked bank robbers. He got in there and did his job, whether that entailed learning to ride the waves, partying with Flea or throwing himself out of a plane.
Just two years ago, Reeves took his first tentative step into the twilight zone of compromised police work. In "A Scanner Darkly," his undercover narcotics agent, Bob Arctor, got a little too familiar with "Substance D" and found himself betrayed by a commanding officer who turns out to be a major dealer.
Reeves aside, we long for the clear-cut right and wrong in the "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" movies. Even though those cops were loose cannons, you never had to worry that they'd start opening fire on their own men, or skimming drugs out of the confiscated evidence.
We're especially nostalgic for Frances McDormand in 1996's "Fargo," valiantly doing her job despite being undoubtedly cranky from pregnancy hormones and bitter cold. In retrospect, "Fargo" seems to have been the Coen brothers' look at the lighter side of law enforcement.
Given the current grim parade of corrupt cops, we'd like to see more with an outlook like McDormand's Marge Gunderson, staunchly sunny in the face of crime and brutality.
"There's more to life than a little money, ya know," she chimed in her rollicking Minnesota twang. "Don'tcha know that? And here ya are. And it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."