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Patrol

Non-Cop Films With Serious Cop Lessons

Some of the best movies for cops are not directly about law enforcement.

May 20, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Flickr (mark lorch).
Photo: Flickr (mark lorch).

One thing I came away with from the Supervisory Leadership Institute here on the left coast was an appreciation that some non-cop films could prove of particular benefit to law enforcement.

While the films chosen by the SLI staff weren't necessarily those I would have chosen - indeed, I had reservations about some of the course's basic philosophical primers - they at least touched on pertinent areas of concern.

For an eight-month period, concepts such as loyalty, principles, ethics, and morality were viewed through the Hollywood prisms of "Billy Budd," "Patton," "Twelve O'Clock High," and "The Caine Mutiny."

Now here are a few less obvious double bills that I might suggest for the lessons they communicate:

"All About Eve." There is no shortage of opportunistic Eve Harringtons within law enforcement, or shameless Svengalis like Addison DeWitt. If the egocentric and defensive posturing doesn't ring a bell, I can only hope that you work for a smaller PD. There's no fistfights, no shootouts, but some pretty vicious backstabbing. No wonder there's a helluva lot of emotional body bags by film's end.

"Good Will Hunting." More great word play. Watch the verbal evisceration that Matt Damon's Will lays on a collegiate know-it-all and ask yourself: Whose shoes would I prefer to be in? Don't think it is applicable? Got news for you: You will have your character assailed far more often than your body. Enable yourself to set straight any impertinent SOB so that he'll think twice before becoming a repeat offender.

"Spartacus." We've all heard the parable of the first day they came and took Sam and I didn't say anything. Then they came and took Joe, and again I didn't say anything. Then they took me and nobody was left to say anything. When all those slaves stand up and identify themselves as Spartacus, ask yourself if there hasn't been a time or two when one of your fellow coppers couldn't have benefited from such solidarity?

"12 Angry Men." While a courtroom drama doesn't make an obvious double bill with a period piece, it does illustrate the importance of speaking up when you're sure you're right, even when the numbers are against you. All it takes for evil to conquer is for good men to do nothing.

"Cool Hand Luke." Going with the guy on the other side of the law? Yeah, because whatever Luke's failings as an upstanding citizen, his non-conformist agenda is something admirable.

"Full Metal Jacket." Strother Martin's character in "Cool Hand Luke" is right: "Some men you just can't reach" - they can't be broken down and re-molded. But others like PFC Gomer Pyle, USMC, who is played so chillingly by Vincent D'Onofrio, can only be broken down. Know the difference, especially since there's, shall I say, a greater "array" of personalities getting hired these days.

"John Carpenter's The Thing." I don't know about you, but I sometimes found myself wondering if some of the guys that dressed and acted like me weren't actually aliens hellbent on supplanting our police culture.

"A Few Good Men." Yeah, Jack Nicholson's the bad guy. But he's the also the one with the most memorable lines. Why? Because of the truth resonating within them. While his actions are reprehensible, his basic paradigm about being in the trenches is straight-on. There's a lot of men in "white uniforms" within our ranks who'll pass judgment on actions that wouldn't ever put themselves in a position of having to make a true command decision in the first place.

"The Godfather." Boy, talk about themes of loyalty, betrayal, and the corruption of one's soul, "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" have it all. And like the Mafia, many a law enforcement organization is an organic entity, fully capable of expelling what it deems foreign bodies. "I knew it was you, Fredo."

"Southern Comfort." A guilty pleasure whose presence herein is justified in the "never say die" attitude of protagonists Keith Carradine and Powers Booth. And it's their teamwork and loyalty to one another that keeps them in the game. Besides, next to James Earl Jones, I can't think of anyone whose voice I wish I had more than Booth's. Well, maybe that 17-year-old on "American Idol"...

Do you have your own nominations for less obvious films that speak to cops? Let's hear 'em...

Tags: Leadership, Command Staff


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

AusFOST1 @ 5/23/2011 6:50 PM

Great article. My picks are (1) " Terminator II: Judgement Day": Arnie may be a robot, but his unswerving loyalty to his crew, and his self sacrifice, in the name of saving the rest of us badly-behaved humans, pretty much sums up a cop's role. Plus he kicks OMCG butt and that can't ever be a bad thing!

(2) The Untouchables. "Carry a badge, carry a gun". And Sean Connery's immortal line "What are you prepared to do". Enough said. And if every cop shot as well as Stone, I reckon the world would be a much safer place! Legend.

(3) Tombstone: for the character assessments that Wyatt performed brilliantly every time, for the loyalty of Doc Holiday, and for the lesson that sometimes family has to come second to the job, cause you all know it does.

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