Are Cops Allowed to Be the Good Guys Yet?

'Muzzle' director shares why Hollywood cop films (still) matter

I used to run from the cops.

In my youth, the boys in blue weren’t exactly my BFFs, but up on the silver screen, I was the one in the theater yelling, “Love the PO-lice!”

Hollywood spent decades serving up the flawed-but-heroic big-city cop to cinephiles like me. The police officer was our modern-day cowboy, an all-American icon—the good guy fighting a corrupt system and his own demons to get the bad guy.

We all used to root for the selfless hero holding the thin blue line between citizens and violent chaos.

“If it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.”

But in an M. Night Shyamalan-level twist, Hollywood jettisoned this reliable archetype after the 2020 “Summer of Rage,” pivoting abruptly from an enduring string of success:

  • The French Connection
  • “Serpico”
  • “Dirty Harry”
  • “Beverly Hills Cop”
  • “Lethal Weapon”
  • “Die Hard”
  • “Heat”
  • “L.A. Confidential”

The list is endless…

These films became global sensations, captivating audiences with their crackling dialogue, explosive action and morally ambiguous heroes, but then…

“I’m gettin’ too old for this shi–BOOM-!”

Lethal Weapon (3/10) Movie CLIP - I'm Too Old For This Sh** (1987) HD

Hollywood nuked the hero-cop, in an effort to be less offensive to those who might confuse movies with real life. Nowadays, exploring a cop’s internal struggles in film and seeing the world through their eyes in our current, crime-ridden era is far too brazen and provocative.

And if a filmmaker dares try, our cadre of trusty critics and demagogues are ready to swarm and condemn any effort as an endorsement of all police actions and an apology for anything awful that a real cop has ever done.

Maybe we are this impressionable?

Would the resurrection of cops as big-screen protagonists elevate the optics of the law enforcement profession, attracting a more inspired applicant? (See the Navy recruitment boost after 1986’s “Top Gun”) Cadets who are more equipped to deescalate tensions, make split-second life-or-death calls, even catch the teenage version of me?

We empower police with lethality; we should only encourage this if we want cops to be the best of us.

“There’s a flip side to that coin.”

Passions have simmered since 2020. In Minneapolis, where they enacted cuts to law enforcement budgets and staff, and in LA, where the mayor pledged to cut one hundred fifty million in police funding outside his mansion in Hancock Park, the statistics should be strategically dismissed.

Sure, crime rates have soared and response times have increased, but why would we want to summon the police anyway? Aren’t they the bad guys now?

Even if some of our national crime wave isn’t being exaggerated by Fox News, people on the Westside need not worry, it’s the communities of color that will continue to suffer the brunt of this brave new world.

Ignore any reactionary calls to double-fund the police. Dismiss anyone who dares suggest Triple-funding. Can you imagine the congestion around police precincts as college graduates line up, clamoring for the chance to apply to far higher paying policing jobs?

If off-duty cops drove the nicest cars in the neighborhood, that might even jeopardize future generations of drug dealers who find the opportunity to serve and protect too financially tempting.

A savvier, disciplined and strategic police force is a bad thing, right?

Police departments across America have been forced to lower psychological and physical standards to combat plummeting recruitment since 2020… in some cases allowing applicants with face tattoos and felonies to join up… this is the recipe for fewer policing problems.

But I’ll leave all these questions to our wealthy political leaders, who I’m certain have the common man’s best interests at heart.

I’ll stay in my lane here in Hollywood – where some actors have shown the bravery to issue public apologies for playing sitcom cops.

Our grandfathers would be proud.

The industry has abandoned the hero cop that once enthralled us, burying us in an avalanche of sequels, steroid-addled superheroes and brands masquerading as cinema. I do miss the great films of my youth, but at least we’re all feeling a little better about ourselves.

John Stalberg, Jr. is an award-winning filmmaker. His new film, ‘”Muzzle,” starring Aaron Eckhart as an embattled K9 LAPD officer, is in theaters now.

MUZZLE Official Trailer (2023)

LAPD K-9 officer Jake Rosser (Aaron Eckhart) and his K-9 partner Ace battle it out on the streets of LA when they get into a shootout with local drug dealers and Ace is shot dead. In a moment of crisis, Jake tries to get an EMT to look at Ace and assaults him when he refuses, resulting in him taking leave from the force. Blocked by Internal Affairs, muzzled by his own superiors from finding the shooter’s identity, Jake resolves to go rogue and partners with “Socks”, a violent K-9 with titanium incisors and a mysterious past. Jake and Socks aim to uncover a vast conspiracy that has a chokehold on the city and take vengeance on those responsible.


  1. They used to be. Anyone who saw “Dragnet”, “Adam-12”, “Hawaii Five-0”, “Columbo” and slews of other shows KNEW the cops were the good guys. While it doesn’t take a cop hater to know there are some bad apples, trying to make cops look bad, or at best “flawed” enough to make them look easy to root against began with “Hill Street Blues”, though it REALLY took off with Dick Wolf’s “Theatre of Woke”.

  2. “The industry has abandoned the hero cop that once enthralled us, burying us in an avalanche of sequels, steroid-addled superheroes and brands masquerading as cinema.”

    John Stalberg, Jr’s comment is ironic in light of the superhero film, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” featuring a positive portrayal of a cop, Jefferson Davis, father of Spider-Man.

    The film is a box office smash ($690 M worldwide) and has garnered widespread critical acclaim. “Across the Spider-Verse” will likely get an Oscar nod.

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