‘…an engrossing crime story that’s more than just your average cop-show…’

Political issues are rarely the province of this blog; I’ve made a point of noting that European media has a strong anti-Republican bias, and also understand that James Woods is something of a media bête noir right now for his outspoken comments on the on-going pre- and post election struggle in the US. That’s an odd state of affairs; Woods has a great star in the 80’s and 90’s, a leading man for the likes of Oliver Stone in Salvador, and in blistering form in this underrated cop thriller for director James B Harris. Having produced for Kubrick, Harris was a major industry figure, and this James Ellroy adaptation is streets ahead of most noir films of the period.

Cop was a little too much for critics and audiences to take to at the time; it would be an understatement to say that the profane script was knowing and salty. “women almost never kills themselves with guns,’ is a good example of the dialogue put in the mouth of detective-sergeant Lloyd Hopkins (Woods) as he goes on the trail of a serial killer, or ‘mass murderer’ as this film terms it. Hopkins is something of a nightmare for his bosses, a fast-thinking, resourceful but utterly obsessive character who frightens his family so much they immediately head for the hills and leave no forwarding address. But Hopkins is also smart enough to inveigle himself into the book-store of Kathleen McCarthy (Lesley Ann Warren) and seem like a credible shoulder-to-cry-on for her memories of a rape she’d suffered as a younger woman. What Hopkins doesn’t realise is that McCarthy’s story will tie into the man-hunt he’d launched, leading to a punchy climax in her old high-school gymnasium.

Cop could easily have been a vehicle for Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character, and if it had, would probably have been the third best of the series. It’s a serious-minded film that parses some of the more extreme thinking of the Reagan years, dissecting and also celebrating a wayward main character who believes that he’s holding the world together on his own terms. Woods is great in this role, hollow-cheeked, full of nervous energy, and also believable. There’s also significant roles for Charles Haid and Charles During, who starred with Woods in 1978’s The Choirboys, and enjoy a more sensible look into police corruption here.

But the real revelation isWwarren, who does an amazing job of playing a rape-survivor, and takes the film in a surprisingly modern direction. Hopkins is playing with fire with his fellow cops, but also with his own personality, and her accurate description of the evil that men do threatens to shake him out of his white-saviour bubble. Cop may look a little square by today’s standards visually, but the questions it raises about ‘who guards the guards?’ are vividly articulated. And the ending is brevity in a nutshell; an on-the nose conclusion to an engrossing crime story that’s more than just your average cop-show.


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  1. Woods was one of the most intense actors around and the film benefits from that. Warren, as you say, is a revelation and never really got the career breaks her skills warranted.

    • I had Warren mixed up in my head with Lesley Anne Down, for obvious reasons, so that similarity of names probably didn’t help..

  2. but it also looks like his views chime with many…
    quote from your comment to someone else.

    They DO chime with many. Close to 72million “many” in fact.

    • Right; if you live outside America, people constantly ask; ‘How can anyone have voted Republican?.’ But that question only reveals how slanted the media is outside of the US, where Trump has been reported as a daily disaster for years. I’m neither a Republican not a Democrat, so just observing from the outside, and I thank you for confirming my notion that the kind of views like Woods describes are widely held, and not as rare as the media would have us believe.

      • We are quiet. We don’t riot. We don’t hold protests. For the most part, we don’t make up slogans across twitter and other social media. We want to be left alone and we want to leave others alone, for the most part.

  3. A friend introduced me to this back in the day. He was a big fan of James Woods performances in the 1980s. I don’t remember much from the story but I do remember Woods being absolutely on fire in this role. I’m curious to watch this again, now. Thanks for the member-berries! Great post.

    • Yup, Woods is as good as he is in Salvador, which is to say; really good. The story stands up better today, probably because many of the elements have been exaggerated to cliche level. You won’t be disappointed!

  4. I think I have seen this movie at some point🤔🤔 But I’m not entirely sure, it seems familiar, and I usually really like Woods as an actor. As it’s on Youtube now, maybe I’ll check it out in the weekend. Am planning a bit of an easy movie watching marathon weekend, as it’s been an exhausting week, so this might be perfect😊

    • I’ve adjusted the text to clarify; and as noted, you can take a look at this for free, for now, on YouTube. Thanks for the positivity!

  5. Woods seems to enjoy playing the role of a jerky celebrity more than anything these days, but he basically takes over every movie he’s in, even when he’s not the star. I missed this when it came out but I’ll look for it.

    • There’s a decent copy on YouTube if you want to get a flavour, I’d remembered this as being a cut above at the time, but Ellory’s touch really elevates it. And Woods makes an interesting anti-hero, and his character suffers for his beliefs, making a strong movie.

  6. Best to avoid the religious fervor now consuming many Americans.
    I’ve never been much of a James Woods aware person, though I did grow up in the same home state of RI. He gets lots of mention on Family Guy, which is ostensibly set in the same little state.
    good fun!

    • Blistering actor when he gets the bit between his teeth, but this is a much more thoughtful film than might be expected…and yes, I’m not making any grand pronouncements about US politics right now, in Europe, we get a strict party line, and Woods is frequently drawn into the fray as an extremist, but it also looks like his views chime with many…

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