Cop opens with white credits on black whilst we listen to a faceless voice attempt to report a murder featuring a frustrating yet unsavoury collection of exchanges. We are then introduced to James Woods’ Detective Hopkins, a fast talking streetwise cop spewing instructions and tips to his work colleagues in the precinct.
Rocking a up to a crime scene Woods speaks to the caller and is investigating the crime scene with his revolver. This isn’t Martin Riggs or John McClane, his attempt to kick open a door fails and through the crime scene investigation his nerves show. A gory murder scene is presented and Woods is notably taken-a-back. It becomes apparent that a serial killer, who has been operating for decades, is at large and Hopkins will stop and absolutely nothing to catch him. Cop is far from your typical, flashy 80’s cop actioner.
In the opening minutes we see him look at a corpse dangling from the ceiling then he suffers a reaction to the barbaric nature of the murder. Hopkins becomes consumed with catching the kill. Rushing to further the case he risks everything to process the case. He initially seems to have a good home life yet we are concerned as we see how he speaks with his young daughter only for everything to crumble once he rants about the horrors of the street to his wife. He isn’t a well man, the job is the issue and it is destroying him.
It’s intriguing how Hopkins can slip from charming to dangerous quite easily, a sociopath if ever there was one. The character is similar to William Peterson in To Live And Die in LA. Having little care for the needs of others unless it furthers his own pursuits.
Lesley Ann Warren plays a feminist poet who holds crucial information for Hopkins. Leslie Ann Warren’s exchange with Woods is beautifully crafted and uncomfortable. Her character is frustrating for Hopkins. A intellectual feminist and initially unapproachable due to a traumatic past. However, once broken by Hopkins she then switches to meek and naive only for Hopkins to pull out what he needs and abandon her.
Support comes from Charles Durning, giving a solid performance. Durning can sleepwalk through this having played this type before, however, he doesn’t. His character can’t stop Hopkins from taking a wrecking ball to his life and neither can his Captain. The underrated Randi Brooks crops up in a small yet important role as Hopkins continues along the road of self destruction.
The story marches along without much extra development in Hopkins family life despite making so much effort early on. Whilst not entirely forgotten about, his family has been chewed up and spat out as Hopkins wrecks everything on his way to resolve the case. As Hopkins’ family leaves we lose the only sign of innocence and wholesome value. From that moment on Hopkins loses any form of restraint as he burns through everyone in his path for justice.
Cop isn’t action focused, it is entirely a character study of a destroyed man painted around the background of catching a killer and the wake of upset he leaves in the pursuit. Woods has a likeable demeanour and in turn this comes out in Hopkins. However, a glaring omission is that we do not see Hopkins receive any form of personal satisfaction from the resolution. Instead the closing moments are quoted lines and shotgun blasts. Case closed.
Director James B. Harris wrote and directed Cop, based on James Ellroy’s book Blood of the Moon with Woods serving as producer. It’s worth noting that the original book had two sequels, however, the film did not receive the same. Harris and Woods had worked on Fast-Walking (1982,) another seedy outing that missed the mark despite having some excellent moments.
I want Cop to be a fully realised character study like Bad Lieutenant and it’s almost there, yet waivers some of the moments it could have succeeded. Cop ultimately needed to make a point during the finale. Woods, During and Warren work hard and keep the film human and this sets it apart from other cop thrillers of the 80’s. We are along for an intriguingly seedy ride and it needed to make a little more effort to fashion a more complete story. Perhaps a sequel might have helped but for what it is Cop is a fascinating and stylish forgotten thriller.
There is a wide selection of artwork for the film and thankfully it doesn’t push Cop as an action movie too much. The UK VHS is a bit of a throw back with quotes comparing the film to Fatal Attraction and James Woods to James Cagney.