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Cop (1988)

Cop could have been as generic as its spartan title, yet the detail-oriented direction by James Harris gives this story of the worldview-shaping causes & effects of serial sin several rich observations of human vulnerabilities & how we may react to them. James Woods, wiry & wry as ever, plays the role of keen-eyed Detective Llyod Hopkins with a reactive moral fervor. Working in a profession that places him squarely between not only life & death but also justice & corruption, Hopkins has turned cynical from having to deal with the nastiness under the rug of civilized society. He witnesses evil taking advantage of naivete, setting out to destroy the former & jade the latter. This quest will make him enemies with both unhinged lunatics & institutional power-holders alike. Being at odds with lowlifes & higher-ups isn't unusual for crime films, but what sets this apart is Harris's direction so thoroughly detailing grotesque acts of discovery & Woods's physicality fleshing out a seer of worldly wickedness responding with righteous indignation. It's a pure example of ideology formed by "noticing," and the story's chilling seriousness is from a tension between observational distance from the extremity of its observer & putting us in his shoes to find that his takes about the corrupted world are likely truer than most would like to admit.

The acting career of James Woods is infamous for his uncanny ability to play cunning characters of a lethally libidinal sort making do in a corrupt world. He has a mastery of body language & facial expression that can subtly (or explosively) let loose a knowing contempt at the disgusting environs in which he finds himself immersed. Moreover, his parts are pronouncedly witnesses, discoverers, or even embittered participants of dark ways of life. A photojournalist capturing on film the warzone of Salvador, an assassin who knows all the ins & outs of dirty business in Best Seller, a sleaze-TV prez who enters a conspiratorial memetic war in Videodrome, a master gangster in Once Upon a Time in America with a contrast of experienced worldliness over the considerably imprisoned protagonist. Even the clueless father in The Virgin Suicides is a warning against the vulnerability of unawareness shattered by a cruel realization. For that matter, Woods in real life shares his scrutiny as a notable right-wing political commentator on social media, much to the chagrin of irritable antiwhites acclimated to having Hollywood voices in their corner. He's an impeccable embodiment of an archetype of uncovering evil.

But there's a cost to being on the front lines against criminality; at their best, Harris & Woods are on the cutting edge of psychological observation to warn us of that potential precipice. Especially concerned with the personal experience of uncovering & responding to evil, Cop arrives somewhere close to the lone-wolf walk Dirty Harry starts at when Detective Hopkins's personal life lets out its dying croaks as he dives deeper into an extreme case & the extreme methods required to settle it. His bedtime story accounts of gruesome cases to warn his young daughter about the sickos out there turn out to have a pretty bad look to his nail-biting wife. He correctly explains that false expectations of an entitlement to happiness & the disillusionment that follows a wake-up call are spiritually destructive, but if anything, his impassioned attempts to defend his philosophy through verbal argumentation -- pro tip: most women can't grapple with moral abstracts, and actions speak louder than words -- only hurt his chances of assuring her that his household is in capable hands. A friend warns him that it's always going to be in the nature of a woman to be shaped by what she's attracted to, which just so happens to significantly overlap all that aggressively psychopathic stuff, but he's determined to state his case even if his wife doesn't want to hear it. Given female dominance over the domestic legal system, it's no surprise that she feels capable of growing distant & eventually takes her daughter with her, leaving Hopkins without an outlet for his fatherly guidance.

Of dubious fortune is that a new serial slayer is emerging (or rather is only now detected thanks to pattern-noticer Hopkins) to provide a target whom this badge-wearing warrior can vent against. Seems as if the victims are all young women, particularly ones who've been sleeping around, potentially rubbing elbows (among other body parts) with psychotics whose brutality extends beyond some slapping & choking in bed. Perp seems like a perfect case -- and a perfect case study of how far taking advantage of people too airheaded to know better than to let their guard down can take you. This won't be easy, not only for the usual malicious mastermind shenanigans but also because police administration resists being convinced by the same evidence that turned Hopkins onto the scent of a serial case & moreover just doesn't want the hassle such an investigation & its media coverage entails. But to Hopkins, it's worth the trouble to beat this butcher, especially as one way to vindicate your ideals after the wife & kid have disregarded him.

The killer in question is an embodiment of everything Hopkins hates. The literal ladykiller principally targets women engaged in some form of promiscuity, with the first victim to catch Hopkins's eye being a feminist author who evidently caught the killer's eye for her documentation of swinger orgies, evidently close enough to being associated, from his perspective. This elusive assassin overpowers the physically weak, manipulates the mentally weak, won't show himself directly, and has a sick sense of sensuality seen by his provocative staging of corpses in carnally-suggestive states accompanied by taunting notes justifying past & future killings. Moreover, it's revealed over the course of the investigation that before starting his spree, the murderer may be motivated by witnessing sexual violence & female indifference as a schoolboy, a lamentable lesson filling him with disdain for humanity with tailored reasons for both sexes. Detective Hopkins hunts down the freak-man across several curiously emphasized scenes of quietly intense evidence assessment. Anything from reconsidered police records & strong-armed testimony to a fidgety woman's locked-away diaries & a cagy beat-cop's S&M gear strips away innocent appearances & seems to subtly incense the ideologue into a more extreme form.

Of course, Hopkins isn't exactly a white knight, himself. Even before his family's dissolution, he isn't above escorting a suspected escort back to her place for some post-mission emissions (after gunning down the crook she was with & following that deadly display with a promise to not blackmail her if she cooperates). This player has seen a thing or two in LA's competitive sexual marketplace & knows that leveraging authority over others isn't just forcibly effective -- it's downright attractive to most girls. When he's working over a new chick, you can tell he's refined an effective routine from his relaxed assuredness, his deliberated gestures, his fronted patience at her rattling off about insecurities & tragedies he's already heard a hundred variations of from a hundred other women. Each aimless alley girl might as well be all the same sap pouring out the same sad story before lowering her paper-thin shields to play the sucker for him, the empathetic ear.

Is it hypocritical to condemn the scammers, rapists, and beaters who contribute to shaping the clay of the modern slut into her desperate, affirmation-seeking form -- while taking advantage of such vulnerabilities yourself? In any case, Hopkins is fascinated by hypotheticals only if it informs his idea of preventing the goods from being damaged in the first place, hence his inclination to soapbox before glazed eyes about how "innocence kills" as well as act as judge, jury, and executioner to crooks to enforce a permanent solution whenever the chance arises. As for the victimized girls whose resentment and loneliness have already pulled them aboard the cock carousel: well, better his lap than someone else's, for a little while. And anyone who's been around the block as much as he has can't deny there's attractive potency in Machiavellian maneuvering. Though fewer will feel proud of their participation or pleased at how things are, Hopkins occasionally belying that he himself isn't enthused by his affairs' immoral state of affairs.

This redpill-reconfiguring approach works wonders yet isn't endearing to popular ethics. Hopkins' man-whoredom for whoever he can get to spread her legs open & fanaticism against unduly inefficient due process results in relations with the chain of command in the police force being as smooth as sandpaper. Our guy is on a crusade, but aside from some nepotistic family connections (for better & worse a major factor when present in any power structure) in the force, not many are lining up to join him. Hopkins gets righteous results from his rampant raging, but the objective consequences don't matter as much to limitedly logical emotional impressions when the presenter rubs you the wrong way. The ends may justify the means, yet those means may not be so effective if they burn bridges necessary to navigate influential institutions that he, too, is subject to.

But Hopkins won't be stopped by something as minor as everyone else being against him, even if hearts are broken along the way. Noting that many of the victims are sexually licentious feminists looking for no-frills filling of holes in their souls (among other places) with the company of potentially pernicious penetrators, he seeks out Kathleen, who runs a bookstore catering to male-hating literature. Not a hair-dyed hag turned misandrist by malignant miseducation & media, the thin, mousey, middle-aged maid initially balks at the prospect of talking to a policem*n until it seems to be for the safety of her sisters. Lesley Ann Warren's fragile female is a largely lowkey performance yet as high a caliber as Woods's acting; she exudes jaded skittishness & pained loneliness in perfect mete to give a scarred character the appropriate socially-burned gravitas without veering into victim-philia histrionics.

Indeed, it turns out Kathleen's formative education years may have a connection to potential suspects for the serial killings as some sort of reaction to her tragedies. In reaction to sexual harassment from a female teacher, she started a protective pro-abstinence girls' group in high school only to be unable to defend herself against rape by a pair of pissed-off pigheaded boys who turn out to crooked cops in the present day. Her female friends turned out to be fair-weather-only & opted to cut ties with her, because few want to stay around a woman that makes one more bummed than pleased, regardless of context or what's "moral" or "fair." This tumult resulted in diving into a spree of hedonism before internally retreating to poetic pursuits in middle age, as well as having an emotional vulnerability & longing for a provider.

These weak points don't escape Hopkins's opportunistic eye. Kathleen is won over by calculated displays of kindness & comradery; wearing a sympathetic smile & letting out the occasional "Hmm!" at monologues about overwhelming emotions can get you far into a girl's private regions, even for one claiming to be still waiting for Mr. Right as Kathleen does. In truth, he finds her emotional exposure & erotic evasiveness exasperating, and he's recently met another new (and better-stacked) broad, anyway, so after he's gotten the case-relevant info he needs, the hunter doesn't bother waiting for her pre-sex shower to end before skipping out to continue his investigation. That relevant info suggests that the serial killer may have a romantic interest in her & is even acting in a misguidedly righteous reaction to her being sexually assaulted by killing those he deems to be of the same ilk as her victimizers (including whomever he deems like those in the aloof girl's club). Kathleen ends up being manipulated by investigator & killer alike, whose approaches to using her dicey emotional state to their own satisfaction (if not hers) have different angles that converge with her not sure who to let pull her strings. Beyond utility to the case, though, the unfortunate woman is ultimately of no consequence to cop & criminal alike, who battle as its own reward in a crazed midnight gunfight climax in the darkened halls in the place of learning where so much tragedy began. Whoever kills the other might be dead to the world outside, but they consider it an acceptable price for a sense of worldview vindication.

It's a common pulp practice to compare enforcers & outlaws, but Cop tackles its themes on an especially ideological, even exegetic level. No parallels are exposited outright, yet there is a matter more fundamental than just a serial killer pulp being explored. There's a world of ugly realities to human passions & drives -- from the dizzying body count of a female & the reactive rage of an impotent male to the undeniable magnetism of dark dominance & the emotional hollowness that follows in its wake -- that so-called polite society tends to quietly dismiss until the reality ruptures into the lives of the unprepared. What we see among Hopkins & his prey (in seductive & violent conquests alike) are a host of different ways people of varying preparation respond to encountering that darkness, with Hopkins recognizing the resentment that follows on the heels of naivete yet risking falling into a form of resentment from this frustrating recognition itself.

Being so deep behind proverbial enemy lines means being willing to sacrifice one's well-being (physically & otherwise) to perform a necessary-for-society warrior role; Cop recognizes this but also considers others caught in the crossfire. The path of James Woods's brutally cunning crime-crusher somewhat resembles John Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers surrendering his ability to connect with his family in the process of becoming hardened enough to rescue his family from savages that no sheltered man could contend with, becoming somewhat like their violent traits. But the times of frontiers & even small communities are over; Cop complicates its quest by having its social structures prove far more of an entangling factor to its polarizing warrior, who uses up all of his standings for the sake of "popping off" in more ways than one. Every step of the way -- to justice, to self-satisfaction, often though perhaps not by necessity at the expense of others -- Hopkins may briefly have his doubts as to if he's taking the right path to the right goal. But there's no denying that he careens toward pretty much anywhere he wants to at the moment. Beyond reaching that immediate destination, that's something a man on a mission can't afford to think about. The story has to end once Hopkins's journey to conquest & shedding restraint does: cut to black.


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Freeman shows you the hidden methods & meanings of media in its varying forms.

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