Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Police Movies


Without a doubt, there is an attitude toward police of mistrust among many people in this country. That has most likely always been the case. Police forces breed corruption. Citizens don't trust them. Criminals don't respect them (for the most part). And rightly so. They beat and/or shoot people to death. At least, that's what we hear on the news. That's what possesses us. The sensationalism. It's what we talk about in this life, and it's what we love in our movies, especially our movies about the police.

Of course, most police officers are good people performing a noble civic duty. Men and women doing a job that really doesn't pay extremely well, despite incredible amounts of danger and sacrifice. Crappy (and long) shifts. Tons of paperwork. And, in the case of most American cities and towns, not a lot of action, which can turn bad in and of itself (I won't go there.).


I have the utmost respect for the "good cops" out there. The "bad cops" and the fine lines they ride are what make great cinema, though. Either way, it's hard to tell "good" from "bad." Sometimes there just needs to be a bit of both.

So, yeah, my picks this week as part of Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks Meme deal with the inner-workings of police departments. Bureaucracy, scandal, corruption, murder. The stuff that blends "good" and "bad" and vice versa.

Here are my Thursday Movie Picks in the category of Police Movies:

"The Thin Blue Line" (Errol Morris, 1988)


A rare documentary for you this week, Errol Morris' masterpiece tells the story of Randall Adams, a man accused, convicted, and sentenced to death row for the murder of a Dallas police officer. A crime he most certainly did not commit. Like all of Morris' docs, this one relies heavily on interviews. And he's just so good at interviews. He is most interested in what people have to say and how they say certain things. This movie is absolutely gripping and a brilliant indictment of emotion-fueled, but shoddy and downright bad, police work. It also stands as the first collaboration between Morris and composer Phillip Glass, whose score will stick with you for the rest of your life.

"L.A. Confidential" (Curtis Hanson, 1997)


Hollywood. 1953. A series of episodes on Christmas Eve introduces us to three LAPD officers: the hardened tough guy Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe), the Hollywood smooth operator Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and the self-righteous political player Lt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) as they find themselves embroiled in a multiple murder investigation involving ex-cops, the mob, and  hookers made to look like movie stars. The greatest thing about this movie, apart from its perfect production design, is how, no matter how many times you see it, it always surprises you.

To read my essay on the film, click here.

"The Departed" (Martin Scorsese, 2006)


An adaptation of the Hong Kong crime-thriller "Infernal Affairs" (2002), Martin Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan move the story to Boston, a twisty narrative of two "Staties," Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), and their involvement with South Boston Irish mob boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), riding the fine line between cop and criminal. This movie is as smooth and entertaining as anything Scorsese and long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker have ever put together. The performances from the three leads are career best, not to mention the stellar supporting work from Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Ray Winstone. And the surprises that come in this film's masterful third act will never leave me. This is a movie that truly was the Best Picture of that year and was rewarded accordingly. 

A TV Bonus Pick

"The Wire" (David Simon, 2002-2008)


Over five seasons on HBO, David Simon and his team of writers and directors crafted the best TV drama of all-time, a story of a task force, led by the tortured Baltimore Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), bent on taking down the devastating drug business that fueled the crime rate in one of the nation's toughest inner cities. With each season taking on a different aspect of the drug trade (the business itself, the seaport system, the government bureaucracy, the school system, and the news media) and how they individually and together seem to perpetuate violent crime more than they hinder it. Just brilliant television and endlessly cinematic (as HBO is wont to do so incredibly). "Oh shit! Omar comin'!"

31 comments:

  1. I've only seen The Departed from your picks and it's a fantastic movie. I haven't seen The Wire but I'm currently working through the first season.

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  2. Oh funny, I mentioned The Wire in my post too. I've been binge watching it. I also picked The Departed. Such a wonderful film. I haven't seen the other two.

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    1. Both of my other picks are musts. All of Errol Morris' docs should be seen. I know you didn't love The Fog of War. It's not his best. But this one is spellbinding.

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  3. Interesting that you pick a documentary, have you seen Into the Abyss? It deals with similar themes, namely the death penalty.

    LA Confidential is a great pick, the Departed is as well but there are three films I preferred from 2006 (Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men and Little Miss Sunshine) two of which were not even nominated from best Picture but one was Spanish so that might have been a reason.

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    1. I haven't seen that but have heard of it.

      Children of Men would certainly top The Departed on an all-time list. I revise my statement: The Departed was the best of the nominees for Best Picture. Pan's Labyrinth was great but is a movie I will definitely not seek out for a second viewing.

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  4. I've seen both The Departed and L.A. Confidential, and they're fantastic. Still haven't gotten around to The Wire or The Thin Blue Line though I've been meaning to fir see both for quite some time. Great picks.

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    1. Thanks, man. Get on The Wire when you have time for a TV series. It is as good as everyone says.

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  5. Wow...I think I'm the only one who watch Infernal Affairs but never watch The Departed.

    Great picks!

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    1. I still haven't seen Infernal Affairs. I will one day.

      Thanks!

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  6. Interesting. The Departed is the only option from that list that I've seen. I remember watching it in college once and getting really confused because there were like five billion different characters among the cops and crooks and every single one of them had their own little plot line. By the time I got to that gory shootout at the end I'd completely lost track of who was who and why everyone was shooting at each other.

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    1. You seem to have an issue with the speed and multiple perspectives of Scorsese's films. I recall you saying something similar about Raging Bull. I love these types of Scorsese films BECAUSE of the shifting perspectives and plot lines. The heads being blown off in the end are so frustrating yet satisfying.

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    2. That actually would explain a lot, since now that you mention it, a lot of the Scorsese crime films I have enjoyed (i.e. Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York) are the ones that are a bit more focused.

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  7. How have so many people NOT seen L.A. Confidential? Like...isn't that required cinephile viewing? And you're so right...it surprises every time!

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    1. I am surprised every single week when I pick something I think is gonna be an obvious choice and no one has picked it. L.A. Confidential is an incredible feat of cinema.

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  8. I didn't like The Departed as much as seemingly everyone else did, and have never understood why that was the one to win Marty the big prize. Decidedly minor Scorsese.

    L.A. Confidential, on the other hand. DAMN. With each subsequent viewing I think it gets better and better. I keep noticing a new nuance or a new shot that just blows me away. Such a smart, well-crafted film. And great performances across the board.

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    1. It certainly stood as a lifetime achievement award as opposed to a truly deserved Best Director Oscar. He easily should've won for something prior. But I still love it. If for nothing else than the accents and the violence.

      Like a fine wine, L.A. Confidential gets better with age. Incredible.

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    2. The Departed is very entertaining and it had the big name actors going for it, everyone who was voting probably saw it.

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  9. The Thin Blue Line is close to the top of Netflix queue so I'll be seeing it soon but I love, love, love L.A. Confidential such a great movie. Sorry but I hated The Departed, I'm variable on Scorsese but went in with high hope since I had loved his previous film The Aviator but it just didn't work for me. I've only seen a few episodes of The Wire.

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    1. Thin Blue Line is great. Hopefully, I'll get to hear your thoughts on it. Truly powerful, unique doc making. L.A. Confidential is great. You said it. The Departed is just so memorable to me. The Boston setting, the cast, the blood. Loved it! I would put it ahead of The Aviator.

      The Wire is great dramatic TV.

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    2. Hi Kevin,
      Just thought I drop back to say I watched The Thin Blue Line and it was fascinating in its sad, twisted way. Talk about your miscarriage of justice. It's often hard to make a talking heads documentary involving but Errol Morris did a great job with it.

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    3. Glad you got to check it out. Morris is better at shooting interviews than any other documentary filmmaker I've seen. Thanks so much for stopping back by!

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  10. Loving The Wire inclusion, some of the most realistic police work I saw depicted in TV/movies

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  11. I appreciate your balanced comments on the "anti police" vibe of the country right now. I don't know of any other profession that is so consistently overworked, underpaid, undervalued, and scapegoated for so many of society's ills. Though public school teachers might come close. :-)

    Great picks! I watched several seasons of The Wire and loved it. The police officers in that show talk the way cops actually talk. I need to re-watch L.A Confidential, because I don't remember it well, and I still haven't seen the other two movies on your list.

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    1. Yeah. Cops get such a bad wrap I even feel uncomfortable around them most of the time.

      The Wire is so good. I want to watch it again now that it's been remastered for HD. LA Confidential I could watch everyday. It's so brilliant.

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    2. A remastered version of The Wire? Now I know what to put on my birthday wishlist.

      My husband has been a police officer for a long time. The profession does have a bit more than its share of a--holes -- some people are attracted to the field because they imagine it will give them power. You'd think a couple of months of being worn down by the bureaucracy and disrespected by the public would disabuse them of that notion. But some do persevere. :-) However, most are terrific and have never even come close to shooting anyone.

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    3. Yeah. I will be buying that Blu-ray.

      Tell your husband thanks from me for his service. My experience with police has been about 50/50. Half a-holes, half understanding, good guys/gals. I've certainly been blessed to have never done any jail time for the stupid crap I've almost got caught doing. It has to be a hard job for sure. I can't imagine. Definitely a major power trip sort of gig, but I fully believe that most are good and doing the job for good.

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    4. 50/50 sounds about right. :-)

      And yes, I am thankful not to have been arrested for the stupid crap I did in my misspent youth.

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  12. YES! Great call on The Thin Blue Line. More people need to see that film. Genuinely one of the best documentaries ever made.

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    1. Thanks, brother. For me, it probably is the best doc I've ever seen. And more people should see it. A truly gripping piece of cinema.

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