Growing up, I was taught to wave to farmers because they fed us and policemen because they protected us. If I were a police officer today I would wonder if anyone believed such a thing anymore. The public is being fed a constant barrage of negative portrayals on the big screen concerning three major groups: conservative politicians, business people, and the police. Controlling the images we see, Hollywood can corrupt thinking about any social category. There seems to be a cultural war against authority. Anyone who confronts my individualistic morality becomes my adversary.
Denzel Washington delivered an Academy Award for just such a performance in Training Day: the cops are just as bad as the robbers. Ethan Hawke’s “good” character is caught in a malevolent maelstrom. The only way out is to become “bad” to overcome “the bad.” The Departed has a similar refrain: moles and leaks exist for back room payoffs. Only killing cops gives closure. Assault on Precinct 13 actually makes the prisoners, the heroes. Dark Blue intimates that corruption is “the way things are done.” 16 Blocks again suggests that most uniforms are not to be trusted. Pride and Glory recounts the travails of a family which subverts itself by silence, turning its collective back on its own vices. Any number of films would fit the profile. To be sure, redemptive characters do step up in some of the films mentioned. And while good cops punctuate the conflict in movies like L. A. Confidential and S. W. A. T., the action is driven by those who cannot be trusted within the force (Walking Tall: The Payback).
There are good lessons to be learned. Keep your hands out of the cookie jar (The Corrupter). A synonymous point is also true: the more cookies one eats, the harder it is to stop (To Live and Die in L. A.). Sometimes the lesson is corruption can only be overcome by more and worse violence (Above The Law). The viewer certainly understands that the real good guys must be better in every way than their mercenary adversaries (Kiss the Dragon). At times, courage against all odds wins the day (Copland). And for the movies that teach us bad people must be stopped by excellent detectives (Seven) there are ten more movies that excel at pointing out the “bad guys” are not much worse than the “good guys” (A Perfect World, Cleaner, Lakeview Terrace).
In contrast, The Asphalt Jungle directed by John Huston sets the bar for exceptional filmmaking and elevation of the law as righteous. Evil men and their schemes are brilliant in planning and execution. However, “the best laid plans” begin to unravel simply because evil begets more evil. It is only the concerted effort of dedicated police officers that stops wrongdoing in its tracks. I highly recommend reviewing older films for their dedication to goodness in law enforcement. While by no means am I suggesting our culture was more ethically upright then, some films lend themselves to train our sensibilities toward what is right. As a teacher, I want to encourage students to reconsider authority in a better light. But I may have to leave the “new release” section to find what I want in “the classics” of my video store to do it.
And I still wave to policemen.
Mark Eckel, Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Crossroads Bible College