Ten best movie scenes where the undercover cop gets made
21 Jump Street
This is not the best time of year for new movies. So we have Wrath of the Titans, Mirror Mirror and American Reunion. Judging by the box office receipts, you went and saw Hunger Games like everyone else, and were probably were angry that Jennifer Lawrence is too fat and the little black girl from the books was played by a little black girl. You'd love to see Titanic 3D this weekend, but you don't want to pay $25 a person for a 3D markup ticket just to listen to Celine Dion screech at you and watch Kate Winslet lie to Jack about "letting go," considering she immediately lets go. You're probably also not a cat lady.
If we may make a suggestion, go see 21 Jump Street. It's hilarious, entertaining, sweet as hell, and you're gonna be super mad when you watch it on Netflix in two years and realize you missed a great time at the movies -- everyone should experience two idiot cops trying desperately not to blow their cover during the one of the strangest drug trips committed to film. (Spoiler: They succeed.)
To get you in the mood, however, here are ten scenes where the undercover cop was way less successful (heavy spoilers follow):
10. The Mob An interesting little crime movie from 1951, The Mob is a lot like On the Waterfront, just without Brando, with more mob stuff, and pretty much everyone in the entire movie lying about who they are. A plot synopsis is tough, 'cause the thing's pretty convoluted, but lemme say if I wrote it out there'd be a lot of "Then he reveals he's actually..." This is the only film on this list where the main character's cover is broken by a mobster that then reveals he himself is a federal agent (that's how he knows the cop is undercover). The only person who never seems to really get it is Ernest Borgnine (in his first screen performance), the film's villain. When it finally all clicks for him that his buddy is a cop, he gets shot by a sniper who was there just in case Ernest Borgnine figured out his buddy was a cop.
9. Narc Jason Patric's character blowing his cover in Narc is, in effect, the catalyst for the rest of the movie, and we're dropped into it, in its gritty, shaky glory. As Patric chases a drug dealer (and former faux-ally) through the streets of Detroit, the dealer injects an innocent bystander with a fatal amount of drugs and takes a child hostage. Patric shoots the dude before he can hurt the kid, but the bullet also hits the kid's pregnant mom. She miscarries, Patric goes into a years-long depression, and the stage is set for one of the most depressing, miserable (amazing) cop movies ever made.
8. Hard Boiled Possibly the greatest Hong Kong action film ever made, Hard Boiled stars Chow Yun Fat as the "Hot Handed God of Cops" (literal Chinese title translation) alongside Tony Leung as an undercover mole in a powerful Triad group, and is famous for a climactic hospital gunfight that's pretty much big, expensive, and long enough to be its own separate feature. It even includes an impossibly long one-take action sequence through two different floors, which John Woo added because he'd been shooting action for months, and the crew was "getting bored." When I get bored, I like a day off, not 20 times the work and stress. At its core, however, is a dynamic, tried0-and-true story of the layers of corruption an undercover cop has to wade though just so that he doesn't get shot in the face twenty or thirty times. In this case, Leung's character carries out assassinations, beats up really short dudes and even has to machine-gun the hell outta the entire gang he's been in deep cover with for years -- in one sitting! -- to hook up with the new, more powerful, more greasy-haired gang.
Of course, that all goes to hell when he attempts to shoot a police informant in a non-lethal manner (he shoots the guy three or four times just to the side of his heart, which all John Woo characters can easily survive), and Chow Yun Fat takes the wounded informant to the hospital that's actually run by the Triads as a giant gun smuggling operation.
There's no real "a-ha" moment, though, as everyone shows up and Leung starts shooting and kicking the shit out of members of his own gang without even so much as a "Ha ha! I was a cop all along! Even when you guys made me massacre literally hundreds of people!" Joke's on them.
7. White Heat Jimmy Cagney is scary and short and gives an amazing performance that your grandpa can do a shitty impersonation of. He plays an insane crime boss who goes to prison and comes out with a new best friend named Vic Pardo who is maybe...also...a detective. Due to the studio system's nature of using the same twelve actors in every gangster movie ever made, the crime industry is a small industry, and Pardo ends up smack dab in the face of a driver he arrested four years ago. It's super-awkward for everyone involved, like running into your ex at the mall. This happens during a heist, too, so it's even worse. It's like running into your ex at the mall with a mouth full of Cinnabon. Pardo escapes and the cops light all the gangsters up with bullets, 'cause this is a production code era flick, so errybody gotta be punished.
6. Lethal Weapon Old black dude, family man, 'bout to retire. Young insane suicidal white man, sniper, martial arts expert, probably really anti-Semitic deep down. They team up, neither is a fan of the other, 'til they are. Shane Black writes funny things for them to say. There's four of these movies, and for some reason in between the third and fourth, the white guy forgets all the martial arts stuff, leaving him to awkwardly flail at a four-foot Kung Fu expert and get his shoulder dislocated again. You know the story. Eventually it's Christmas and the bad guys are dead and there's racial harmony. We're introduced to the insane white guy when he blows his own cover during a drug bust in a Christmas tree lot. He kinda just does it as a goof. It also gives him the excuse to shoot people. Everyone assumed it was 'cause his wife died and he's sad, but:
A) he always left her really mean racist voicemails and B) put enough drinks in him and he'll blame the whole shootout on Israel.
I believe he yells, "Do you wanna get nuts, let's get nuts!" Two years later Michael Keaton will make fun of him on the Batman set and Tim Burton will film it and leave it in the movie because, fuck it you guys I'm Tim Burton I just wanna get to the point in my career where I can totally coast.
The top 5 are on Page 2
5. Death Warrant Jean Claude Van Damme (yeah) captures and kills the Sandman, the hulking maniac that killed his partner. A couple years later, he goes undercover in a really awful prison where, it turns out, the state attorney general is killing inmates and harvesting their organs (yeah). He started by giving his wife a new liver. But whatever, right? Come up with a good reason why a stacked Frenchman is in prison, and these dudes never figure out he's a cop. Unless it turns out that the Sandman is secretly not dead and he comes to the prison and tortures Van Damme until he has to totally admit it in front of everyone. Seriously! That happens! This movie is awesome! And then Van Damme is so angry that he kicks the Sandman into a fire! And then shoves a bolt into his head to make sure the job got done! I'm sorry about the exclamation points, but it's actually grammatically incorrect to talk about Death Warrant without ending all your sentences with an exclamation point.
4. Reservoir Dogs/City on Fire One of the best, most iconic roles Tim Roth has ever performed features him lying, passed out, a in puddle of his own blood -- for most of the movie. Another instance where the cop blows his own cover, Roth reveals he's 5-0 after emptying a .45 clip into the psychotic Mr. Blonde, one of six career criminals (and one cop) that have just completed a daring daylight diamond robbery and taken a beat cop hostage. He waits until after Mr. Blonde cuts off the cop's ear to shoot him, which I would be pretty upset about if, were I the victim of a Van Goghing. It's an incredibly surprising moment. Unless you've seen City on Fire, the Ringo Lam film that served as the inspiration for Reservoir Dogs (inspiration meaning Tarantino made the same movie but put in conversations about Madonna and told it out of order). Then it's still surprising, but only because you're like "Holy shit, this is just City on Fire with conversations about Madonna!"
3. Eastern Promises Just putting Cronenberg's amazing film this on this list is a humongous spoiler. It's an absurd, Cronenbergian twist that redefines the entire film we've been watching. I hope you haven't seen the movie yet, and it's ruined for you, 'cause my mom called me one day in 2007 and said, "Have you seen Eastern Promises yet? It was so cool that it turned out he was a cop," and if I don't get the joy of the gasp, neither do you. Viggo Mortenson plays Nikolai Luzhin, a Russian gangster who is twenty times more deadly in the nude. He's covered in mob tattoos, which means when this case is over, he either has to jump into another Russian mob case, or become a Zombie-Boy-style fashion model. The genius of the moment that we (and eventually everyone involved) find out that Mortenson is a cop is actually played really low-key and matter of fact -- which makes it all the more shocking, and defines the "why" of the entire story.
2. The Departed/Infernal Affairs Leonardo DiCaprio/Tony Leung has been in the mob for years. He's an undercover cop. Matt Damon/Andy Lau has been a cop for years. He's an undercover mobster. Their lives are a chess game, and while they're not really pawns, they're definitely not in control. They're prying, like, bishops. Neither of them are made until they make each other, but even then, it's after their bosses are dead, and the world has forgotten their true allegiances. Sort of. The amazing moment in these movies comes at the hands of one of the mob henchmen -- see, the undercover cop is meeting with his boss, and the mob finds out that's happening, and they wanna know who this cop is. So they show up, but first they call (complicated) the undercover cop, and they're all like, "Dude! Come over to 11 Fictional Street and kill this cop with us," and the undercover cop is like "Fuccck," and just runs downstairs like, "Dudes I got here first and the undercover dude is mad gone, I know, I'm just as mad as you."
Then a bunch of real cops show up and there's shooting, and in the last moments of this henchman's life, he's all "Dude, I gave you the wrong address. It's cool though. I won't tell. I'm dying anyway." Why? He's a cop too! That is crazy! Then everyone dies. And in Infernal Affairs, you're sad, but that's only because there's no Chinese Marky Mark that fixes everything with scowls and bullets-in-the-heads-of-Matt-Damons.
1. Point Break/The Fast and the Furious Point Break is the greatest undercover cop movie ever made. It's certainly the most iconic (which is why The Fast and The Furious is listed alongside it -- they're the exact same movie, beat for beat). It's also maybe the weirdest, which is probably what makes it the best. There's not really a scene where Brody, played by the late, great Patrick Swayze, seemingly channeling himself, discovers that Keanu Reeves's Johnny Utah is a cop. It's Brody, man. He sees auras. He just knows, and always has, and the way he handles it is by letting Utah become a part of his totally awesome life until Utah doesn't wanna arrest him anymore.
If you have to point out a specific scene -- the first time Brody gets a good look at the cop chasing him, it's the awesome scene they talk about in Hot Fuzz, when Keanu, unable to run anymore, screams in anger and fires his gun in the air 'til it's empty. It's a really dangerous move, by the way -- those bullets can form a perfect parabola and kill random people and animals. How does Brody handle knowing for sure that his friend is betraying him? He acts like he doesn't know, and brings Utah along on a bank robbery/skydiving combo. He's so cool!
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