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The Decay of Lawful Society in Changeling, Fort Apache, the Bronx, Internal Affairs and The Falcon and the Snowman

Updated on December 4, 2019
heather92383 profile image

Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 14 years.

Changeling Poster
Changeling Poster
Fort Apache, the Bronx Poster
Fort Apache, the Bronx Poster
Internal Affairs Poster
Internal Affairs Poster
The Falcon and the Snowman Poster
The Falcon and the Snowman Poster

When it comes to Hollywood and morals, both ended up in a large gray area. People crossed too many lines to get a successful conclusion, unless they get exposed for their dubious behavior. The same can be said for more reputable positions as well, such as public office, law enforcement and government employees. Well, the first one was always a cliche. It's obvious that most politicians lived in a crooked paradise. Let's ignore that and focus on Hollywood's take on the latter two.

In Hollywood and society, morality and law enforcement seemed to go together like a fine wine does with every meal. You know, to serve and protect. What society never took into account was the fact that even law enforcement had weak links in the armor. Shock and disgust were always the end results every time another corruption case came to public light. How could someone betray the honor code? What was their motice for doing this?

Sadly, no one can understand the motive to cross a straight line and head over to easy street. The reasons could simply be a cross of malfeasance, embarassment, ignorance and murderous greed. Here are four films with characters that either practiced or witnessed corruption. Their actions were debatable at best until the right thing was done. The films, and characters, were arranged according to their offense and not chroniclogically. Read on to learn where each film character stood on the moral scale and see if that's accurate.

Case #1: Dereliction of Duty

Character: Captain J.J. Jones

Played by: Jeffrey Donovan

Film: Changeling (2008)

The offense carried out in this film by the police was a mix of weak police work and embarassment. The police department portrayed in the film made mistakes and covered them up to avoid any shame. Sometimes extreme measures were taken to avoid exposure, such as locking innocent people up. This action simply spiraled out of control and gave everyone involved a permanent professional black eye.

Unfortunately, it was hard to find a clear offender for this film because the police department was usually lumped together as corrupt individuals with no one truly standing out long enough. The cops were almost like figureheads seen on pennies and other forms of loose change. The example was more the crime than the actual police characters. The cops were more stereotypical archetypes than fleshed out characters. In terms of labeling an offender, the only one that registered was Captain J.J. Jones.

In the film, Jones (Donovan, Burn Notice) was portrayed as law man lost for words. He made a regrettable error by returning the wrong missing child to Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie). Instead of apologizing for the error, Jones belittled Collins every chance he got. He accused her of lying and simply being crazy. He could've just discredited Collins' claims, but Jones crossed the line in his efforts. His attitude and tone of voice reeked of condescension and arrogance that he was always right. Jones' fatal mistake was trying to make his mistake and Collins both disappear. If she disappeared, Jones' secret would have remained under wraps.

Donovan presented Jones as a man who had no idea how to make everything disappear. His panic forced him to take extreme measures that ended up biting him in the butt anyways. Jones' biggest law enforcement mistake was not admitting his accountability when the truth came out. If he owned up to his mistake, his career might have been saved instead of completely destroyed.

Verdict: Career Suicide

Ultimately, Jones was turned into the sacrificial lamb he made Christine Collins into. He was the negative face surrounding the controversy that grew worse when he attempted to explain himself. Jones needed to be punished for mishandling Christine Collins and her missing child's case. If it wasn't for Jones, the mystery could've been solved and not surrounded in too many what ifs. Unfortunately, law enforcement still happens upon similar bad apples like Changeling's Captain Jones, but they're less likely to get away with it nowadays.

Case#2: Slacker Patrol

Character: John Murphy

Played by: Paul Newman

Film: Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981)

This character case illustrated how doing the bare minimum had no rewards when the consequences were too high. Fort Apache's Officer John Murphy epitomized how his slacker police efforts gave him nothing in return but more grief. Murphy lived in a desolate setting, better known as the Bronx, where crime happened often on the streets and in the 41st precinct. The station house, labeled as "Fort Apache," was home to the police officers rejected by other stations for either a bad work ethic or past deviant behavior.

Murphy (Newman), a man who allowed his emotions to hinder his career. His actions forced him to be shuffled to Fort Apache with the rest of the delinquent cops. Murphy covered up his seasoned police skills to blend in with the rest of his squad. He allowed a purse snatcher to get away when he supposedly wasn't able to keep up with him on foot. Murphy allowed his instincts to stop knife wielding offender and slam another man for offering him a bride. His integrity continued to remain hidden even when Murphy was disgusted by the things he saw. The question remained was about whether he could continue to hide it against his better judgment.

Murphy's biggest offense was his ignorance to the world around him. His nurse girlfriend was a closet drug addict, which he didn't confront for the longest time. The pain in his eyes revealed that Murphy didn't want her addiction to be true. He pretended for everything to be okay he was too invested in the relationship to walk away. Another instance was that he always allowed his work to slide. He tried to set an example to his partner Andy Corelli, but seemed more disappointed than inspired by his own sage advice.

For most of Murphy's career at Fort Apache, he kept his moral code on the backburner while chaos rolled around him. He knew everything that was going on was wrong but he was afraid to say anything. It took one moment to change that for him, which was the senseless murder of an innocent committed by someone he knew and trusted. Murphy and Corelli saw the whole thing happen without them being able to stop it. Since the crime, Murphy's sense of morality came back to bite him in the butt. He wanted to do the right thing, but he didn't want to cross the blue line alone. Murphy spent the latter half of the film struggling with his dilemma until a tragic loss caused him to make his final decision.

Murphy was basically the heart of Apache because his dilemma made it interestingly realistic. His struggle to decide whether to come forward with what he knew or continue to disassociate from reality. Humor was Murphy's defense mechanism to protect himself from everything serious until it wasn't possible anymore. Murphy's funny bone best came in handy outside the 41st precinct as well as inside. His eyes lit up the most whenever he spent time with Corelli and his girlfriend. Both of them made Murphy more than his uniform and shield. He was a man with either a friend or a lover to support when the going got tough, which he was going to need once he resolved his dilemma.

Verdict: Reality and a New Work Ethic

Murphy's decision to change his life and career resulted from a personal tragedy. The decision seemed impulsive, but it was a long time coming in retrospect. It made him realize that "Fort Apache" and Murphy himself needed to change for the better. The question remained was whether or not anything would've changed. The idea of progress was all well and wonderful, except if the execution was faulty. Unfortunately, Murphy's progress was never reavealed beyond getting another crack at solving an old case. Otherwise he was still the same fun loving guy on retainer at the 41st precinct.

Case#3: Good Cop, Really Bad Cop

Character(s): Raymond Avila and Dennis Peck

Played by: Andy Garcia and Richard Gere

Film: Internal Affairs (1990)

In terms of the good guy and bad guy quotient, there's no way to choose between the two, except to focus on both ends of the spectrum. Affairs labeled the good-versus-evil battle with two police officers as different as night and day. Raymond Avila was the epitome of law enforcement morality while Dennis Peck had gotten the short end of the stick.

Avila (Andy Garcia) had a loving wife and a career he was proud of. His morals were intact, despite being known as a hothead. He let his jealousy and doubt plague his seemingly perfect marriage from time to time. Avila jumped to conclusions of non-existent affairs with his wife's co-workers and was often left with egg on his face.

Dennis Peck (Richard Gere), on the other hand, was more a businessman than a law man. He used his shield and gun to get more doors open for him. Despite his best efforts, Peck's endeavors put him under the microscope of Avila and his partner. Peck's personal life was a little more organized than Avila's, but not any less complicated. He had an ex-wife, kids and a committed relationship. Peck also had a mistress on the side... his partner's wife. Complicated indeed. The makings of a bizarre soap opera.

Affairs' battle between the two cops continue to progress as both men pushed the other to the brink of insanity. Peck nearly successfully exploited Avila's jealous temper by making it appear he was sleeping with Avila's wife. Avila pushed back by dismantling Peck's evil plans piece by piece until he had nowhere else to go. Once the crime was taken apart, all that remained was the punishment.

Verdict: Western Style Showdown

The film's resolution allowed both men the opportunity to face off against each other. Both knew that only one would be left standing. Which man was going to walk away or leave it in a body bag? You don't have to think hard about who that will be because the conclusion was obvious from the opening credits.

Case#4: The Secret Sellers

Character(s): Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee

Played by: Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn

Film: The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)

Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee weren't lawmen by any trade, but their actions represented the same type of moral turpitude reserved for corrupt lawmen. They went to extremes to get what they want and got badly burned in the process. In order to understand their motives, you got to understand the characters themselves.

For Boyce, his actions were his way of giving higher government the bird for their ignorant misuse of power during the 1970s. Christopher Boyce started off as a boyish figure who left the seminary and ended up working for a company holding government secrets. Boyce was an idealistic young man who wanted to do the world some good and ended up biting off more than he could chew. He was in the center of a political hot plate and didn't know how to handle everything he learned. Instead of properly processing his actions, he went in the opposite direction and tried to sell the information to the highest bidder.

His appearance was pure misdirection to the world and the audience because he needed to look like a boy scout when he really wasn't. Boyce kept his cool in simplistic suits and had a relatively simple haircut. Another deception was his sparsely filled apartment which hid his corruption better than he expected. Boyce allowed himself to fly under the radar by keeping his work and personal life in separate compartments. He also allowed Daulton to take all the risks by being the delivery man while he hid in the shadows. When everything started unraveling, Boyce's appearance resembled that of an unkempt wild man that lost his ruthless spark that kept everything under control.Instead of fleeing when everything fell apart, Boyce took a more moralistic tactic than he had in a long time. When Uncle Sam was onto him, Boyce pushed his girlfriend Lana away in order to protect her from the stink of his deception.

"I know a thing or two about predatory behavior, and what once was a legitimate intelligence agency is now being used on weaker governments," Boyce confessed when his secrets were exposed. It showed his overconfidence even when he was exposed as a traitor.

This line explained Boyce's motives to the letter. He was frustrated with the rules and regulations he faced as a government employee. Boyce watched corrupt individuals live high off the hog and not get punished for their actions. His decision to sell government secrets was an extreme choice because he could've found a better solution for his dilemma. He didn't have to sacrifice himself as well as his friend Daulton Lee in the process.

Once the outside, Daulton Lee was a man always searching for the quickest buck and had zero impulse control. Lee was a product of the 1970s as an individual submerged in excess and addiction. He couldn't get enough money without getting into trouble. Penn allowed Lee to reach new heights in his drug addicted paranoia as Boyce's plan started to slowly unravel. Even though Lee was initially hesitant, he jumped head first as Boyce's delivery guy and ignored the consequences until it was too late.

Once Lee and Boyce were too invested into the plan, they had nowhere to go except down. It was obvious they needed to pay for their crimes, which was a matter of time before they paid the piper.

Verdict: Caught and Imprisoned

In terms of Boyce and Lee's punishment, it was justifiable because they committed treason after all. Both men deserved to be punished for their actions. What seemed puzzling was the fact that Boyce, the idea man, got less of a sentence than Lee did. He was just the delivery man while Boyce set everything in motion and had access to the information. Unfair indeed, but the lawmakers were the only ones able to determine the proper sentence.

In the end, morality and law enforcement have never went hand-in-hand. Sometimes the occasional bad apple has ended up inside the thin blue line. Sadly, the cop and the robber turned out to be the same person. The justice system allowed ample opportunity to punish the rotten eggs and praise the golden ones. Crime would be much more discernable if there were less rotten apples to deal with. If that were true, the movies would've a hard time portraying the moral ambiguities of being a law bidding officer, as well as a decent human being. What's the fun in that.


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