The 10 Best Cop vs. Criminal Battles in Film
10. The Untouchables vs. Al Capone (The Untouchables)
Source: Paramount Pictures
The Untouchables pits one of the most successful and ruthless criminals in US history against a squad of underdog cops, and the underdog cops win! Which is surprising, but only if you didn't know that one of those cops was Sean Connery, a man so impressive he can kill using only his mastery of good facial hair and who is so self-confident that he can play an Irishman in this movie without making any attempt to do an Irish accent.
The leader of The Untouchables, Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner), assembles a ragtag group of Chicago cops to try and take down the seemingly invincible Al Capone (Robert De Niro, making his first of two appearances on this list). Along the way, they lose a few members before finally pinning Capone on a tax evasion charge.
Al Capone spends most of this movie lurking in the background as an ominous, indestructible, king-like figure who makes Ness' task seem impossible. The Untouchables aren't just going up against one bad guy; they're taking on a whole structure and organization with tentacles that reach into the city's government and even its police force. The battle results in a true victory for the underdog and a win for The Untouchables, which is a surprise, even though they have James Bond on their team.
9. Castor Troy vs. Sean Archer (Face/Off)
Source: Paramount Pictures
Let's not kid ourselves, Face/Off is a dumb movie. But, like The Rock, or Con Air, or 80% of Nicholas Cage films, it's also inexplicably awesome, because if you team Cage up with John Travolta, rip their faces off, and then sew those faces back on in the wrong order, well, you've just made yourself a confusingly great movie.
Terrorist and all-round bad guy Castor Troy (Cage) is hunted down and captured by FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta), who's still kind of pissed about Troy murdering his son. Troy, however, has planted a ticking bomb, and the FBI decides the only sensible course of action is to have Archer swap faces with the criminal, infiltrate his gang, and find the bomb's location. Obviously. Things go about as well as you'd expect, i.e. badly.
The premise of Face/Off may be dumb but you can't argue with its sense of fun. It's like a child's painting; artistically and intellectually worthless but kind of fun to laugh at. Or my parenting skills, criminally awful but also sort of entertaining. It's enjoyable, is the point I'm making, and Cage and Troy's battle throughout is the main reason for that. Whenever an armed John Travolta wearing Nicholas Cage's face confronts an armed Nicholas Cage wearing John Travolta's face outside a church in slow motion while doves fly away in the background, you know you're in for something special. And by special, I mean both special as in extraordinary, and special as in mentally challenged.
8. William Foster vs. Martin Prendergast (Falling Down)
Source: Warner Bros.
Sometimes you just have a bad day. Your boss is on your back, your co-workers are annoying you, and the weather is being a complete dick. On days like that, we tend to spend every hour with clenched fists, held tongues, and a tenuous grip on civilized behavior that just falls short of murdering the nearest person who even slightly irritates us. But what if you crossed that line, and let all that frustration out? Well, it would probably play out something like Falling Down.
Michael Douglas plays William Foster, an unemployed former defence worker who's trying to get across town to see his daughter. Along the way he encounters a number of everyday frustrations – like a convenience store's refusal to give out change and a fast food restaurant providing crappy service – and deals with them using baseball bats and Uzis. LAPD sergeant Martin Prendergast meanwhile has his own shitty life, but is dealing with it rather more productively; spending his last day on the job following Foster's trail of destruction and trying to stop him before he does any more damage.
The great thing about this particular battle is that the audience doesn't know who to root for. Sure, Prendergast is sympathetic and relatable, but so is Foster. Who among us hasn't wanted to just go apes**t mid-way through an infuriating argument with some patronizing, false-smiled customer service manager? Foster represents the side of human nature that just wants to punch out at life's little illogical irritants, while Prendergast is the civilized side that struggles on through despite the hardships. In the end, Prendergast – rightly - wins, but I'm sure we all have a little sympathy for the man driven to borderline insanity by the society we live in. Pulling out a gun isn't a legitimate way to deal with life, but watching a movie about a guy who does just might be.
7. Batman vs. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Source: Warner Bros.
The Joker is one of the greatest ever fictional criminals and while Batman may not be a cop, he does spend his time hunting down the bad guys of Gotham. It'd be ridiculous not to include them on this list, especially when you consider the fascinating physical and psychological battle between the two that is central to what makes The Dark Knight great.
The movie consists of Batman's attempts to bring The Joker, and the criminal empire he's seized control of, to justice. The Joker meanwhile sets about corrupting those trying to help the city, using Gotham's citizens as playthings, and just generally f***ing with Batman. I shouldn't have to tell you that though, because you've already seen The Dark Knight, and if you haven't, then, Jesus, go watch The Dark Knight already, what's wrong with you?
The Joker is an anarchic terrorist, causing chaos, violence, and murder just to see it happen. His only rationale for his rampage is his belief that society is just as messed up and violent as he is, and his actions are an attempt to prove this to Batman. The Caped Crusader disagrees however, and some of the film's events – like two shiploads of captives refusing to blow each other up to save themselves - would back up Batman's opinion. The Joker, arrested near the end of The Dark Knight, appears to have lost the fight, but he successfully corrupts the District Attorney Harvey Dent and turns him into a bad guy, and the movie ends with Batman fleeing into the distance, taking the blame for a number of murders. With the Bat-Signal smashed in one of the film's final scenes, it's hard to say Batman won.
6. Frank Abagnale, Jr. vs. Carl Hanratty (Catch Me if You Can)
Based on an incredible true story, Catch Me if You Can warrants its place on this list by taking the traditional cop vs. criminal battle and spinning it into a more original version; the criminal is a teenage con man and the cop is a bank fraud agent, and while that may sound like a bad Jason Biggs movie crossed with utter boredom, it's actually pretty awesome.
Frank Abagnale Jr., played by a perfectly cast Leonardo DiCaprio, is a teenage runaway, who takes to performing check fraud and con tricks in order to make money. These cons increase in scope until Abagnale is scamming his way into jobs as a doctor, pilot, and lawyer. Pursing him all the while is FBI fraud agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who remains perpetually one step behind until the movie's final act.
The chase between Abagnale and Hanratty is at the heart of Catch Me if You Can, but it's the relationship between the two characters that makes their battle so interesting. The movie begins with Abagnale mocking and humiliating Hanratty and ends with the latter feeling sympathy for, and acting like a father figure to, the young con man. At the film's end, Abagnale stops running from the law only when he realizes that Hanratty isn't going to chase. It's quite sweet really.