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Back to the cop-on-a-mission well

Everyone loves new and original characters in movies. One of the greatpleasures of last year was watching Natalie Portman transform a stockballerina character into something we’ve never seen before. Beautiful.

Everyone loves new and original characters in movies. One of the great pleasures of last year was watching Natalie Portman transform a stock ballerina character into something we’ve never seen before. Beautiful.


But where would the movies be without straight-ahead stock characters like the arrogant pilot or the rebellious teen? This week, The Factory, starring John Cusack, revisits one of the most frequently exploited big screen stereotypes, the obsessed cop.

The cop-on-a-mission character is nothing new. Film Noir is jam packed with police with something prove. Check out The Big Combo, a little-seen but worthwhile movie from 1955, which sees Cornel Wilde as a cop so fanatical about arresting a crime boss he funds the investigation out of his own pocket. Good gritty stuff.

More recently, Matt Dillon was the best thing in Takers as a detective who relentlessly tracked an elite band of bank robbers. He’s played cops before—a racist one in Crash for instance—and been in trouble with real policemen—he was busted doing almost twice the speed limit in 2008—but this is the first time he’s played one straight out of Central Casting.

Russell Crowe, however, has taken on the stock character more than once. Most famously he played Richie Roberts based on the real life detective who doggedly tracked one of the biggest heroin kingpins of the 1970s, Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington. In a strange twist to the story, the real Richie Roberts later became a lawyer and served as Frank Lucas's defense attorney and, to add an even more bizarre twist, became godfather to Lucas's son.

In Tenderness, Russell plays Lt. Cristofuoro a Buffalo detective who takes a “special interest”—read: “becomes obsessed”—with Eric Komenko, a teen who murdered his parents. Cristofuoro was the cop who originally arrested Eric and is convinced he’ll kill again. Crowe was originally meant to be a supporting player but was convinced to sign on when his part was expanded and he was given the voice-over narration.

Perhaps the greatest obsessed cop in the movies is Gene Hackman as 'Popeye' Doyle in The French Connection. Not only does this movie have one of the all time great chase scenes, but Hackman, who won a Best Actor Oscar for the part, has great hardboiled lines like, “What is this, a [blankety-blank] hospital here?” when he confiscating drugs from a guy in a bar.

 
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