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Detective Alonzo Harris
Played By: Denzel Washington
- Asshole Victim: It's hard to feel sorry for him even as he barely clings to life before being finished off by the Russian mobsters sent to kill him. Before that, nobody in the neighborhood cared about him for real and didnt want him to succeed in paying off the Russians.
- Ax-Crazy: A very psychotic and aggressive sadist who has treated others like crap because of how unstable he is as a person.
- Bad Boss: Between holding a gun to Jake's head, forcing him to smoke marijuana laced with PCP and leaving him at the home of several gangbangers to have him killed? More than counts.
- Big Bad: Becomes the main antagonist of the film after he attempts to have Jake killed by the Latino gang.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Gives an emotional, kind and fatherly speech to Jake about the nature of police corruption and how Jake can make a real difference to the world. This would be a heartwarming moment, except 5 seconds earlier he was on the phone secretly arranging for Jake to be violently murdered. He doesn't mean a single word that he's saying.
- Break the Haughty: The way Alonzo swans around town, you'd think he's untouchable. He loses his smug confidence after being shot in the ass by Jake and realizing how serious he is.
- Catchphrase: "You wanna go to jail, or you wanna go home?"
- Character Tics: He rubs his two guns together as if he's sharpening knives.
- The Chessmaster: He manipulates events and people like pawns to get the outcome he wants. As he states to Jake:
"This shit's chess, it ain't checkers!"
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: He endlessly manipulates and betrays others based on what benefits him.
- Classic Villain: Pride and Wrath.
- Cool Car: His 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo, complete with hydraulics. It's sexy.
- Cowboy Cop: A rare villainous version. He's long become more extreme than even the gangsters he fights, but the reason he's kept around by his superiors (the three wise men) despite his personal corruption is that he catches a lot of bad guys. Alonzo himself claims he is only going after the big fish in the drug trade; he has 38 cases pending trial, 63 active investigations, 350 log cases he has yet to clear, and is supervising five other officers besides Hoyt.
- Death by Irony: He repeatedly threatens Jake with the possibility of him being killed while responding to a call, leaving behind his family, to get him to fall in line with Alonzo's methods. After he is shot and killed by the Russians, the reports over his death show that the official story is that he died while responding to a call, leaving behind his family.
- Deconstructed Character Archetype: Of the Cowboy Cop. Alonzo bends and breaks the rules to get his man and will engage in vigilantism if it helps him serve justice. The result is that he's an arrogant sociopath whose just as bad as the criminals he fights, and is corrupt to boot.
- Dirty Cop: He frames and beats up suspects, has ties with criminals, kills people he doesn't like, betrays his friends for money, and uses his badge to intimidate everyone in the gang-run neighborhood he frequents.
- Dirty Coward: Take away his gun and badge, and this is all he is. The minute his life is in danger, he chooses to run away or beg for his life. Jake and the other gang members realize this, and decide that hes not worth killing.
- Disproportionate Retribution: When Jake refuses to smoke a pipe of marijuana, Alonzo immediately holds a gun to his head to get him to smoke it. It's implied that this kind of behavior has been going on for a while, and backfired on him when he beat a member of the Russian Mafia to death for insulting him.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Possibly subverted. At first, it looks like he loves his mistress Sara and his son. However, it's clear there's anything but love in it. His relationship with Sara is just for sex and nothing more and he even treats her as an annoyance at the climax. During the final shootout with Jake he appears to be subtlety manipulating Sara's son to be his Human Shield.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He gets a moment of human compassion when he encounters two would-be rapists, even though he wouldn't have stepped in if Hoyt hadn't gone back to save the girl.
- Evil Is Petty: After he refuses to book in the crackheads/attempted rapists, he spends two minutes harassing and torturing one of them for calling him a "bitch" and telling him to "suck [his] dick."
- Evil Mentor: He tries to groom Jake into becoming a Dirty Cop. When Alonzo fails to corrupt Jake, who's willing to stick to his principles, he ultimately sets him up to be killed by a bunch of gangsters.
- Fallen Hero: It's been said in the movie that he started out like Jake, an honest and hardworking cop but he resorted to using other means of justice to make long-lasting peace in the neighbourhood but those methods turned him into the power-hungry sociopath in the movie. Antoine Fuqua describes him as such in the behind the scenes footage.He's a guy that's probably done some good when he first started and realized that, you know, if you just move this an inch this way you can actually get a case to stick. And then you start moving it a foot then a yard and next thing you know, you know you're on the other side.
- Fatal Flaw: Wrath. Despite usually been smooth and calculating, his temper often gets the better of him. His killing of a courier for The Mafiya in Las Vegas is what gets him in trouble, and serves as the backbone for the movie's plot. One could argue, Lust as well, since Jake accurately deduces that he would be at his mistress' home, after abandoning Jake to be killed by gangsters.
- Faux Affably Evil: He might just be the poster boy. He's intelligent, charismatic, magnetic and can turn on the charm like few others. Even when he acts like a jerk and commits violent acts, he has a way of spinning them so it seems like he's just a realist who is ultimately on the side of good. The truth is that he's a savage killer who cares only for himself.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: He's made himself pretty valuable to his fellow cops and the gangbangers on the street through virtue of his own power and cunning, but none of them like him at all. This eventually comes back to bite him in the ass.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Deconstructed. He gets murderously enraged over tiny things, which is best shown when he holds a gun to Jake's head for refusing to smoke marijuana out of a pipe. However, this attitude causes EVERYONE to hate him as a result, including his fellow cops. His bad temper also caused him to unknowingly kill a member of the Russian Mafia in Las Vegas, forcing him to gather $1 million to save his own life.
- Hated by All: Despite the power and sway he holds in the community, nobody likes this guy and for good reason. He becomes a Broken Pedestal to Jake, the Three Wise Men aren't particularly fond of him, the gangsters in Baldwin Village get fed up with his behavior and decide enough is enough, and even the guys he hired to kill Jake eventually opt not to do it.
- Hate Sink: Denzel Washington definitely deserves an Oscar for making sure his character is so despised that the audience would be beyond satisfied watching him get his just desserts at the end by getting gunned down by the Russians.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Oh, absolutely. The writer himself described Alonzo as not a dirty cop in the traditional sense, but rather someone who has essentially gotten too good at his job.
- I Own This Town: At least, until the finale.
- It's All About Me: In the end, his first priority is himself.
- Jerkass: Definitely. In spite of his charismatic front, at the end of the day Alonzo is a selfish, egotistical, cruel sociopath with a truly violent temper that is willing to kill anyone to get his way.
- Kick the Dog: His cold-blooded murder of Roger.
- Killer Cop: He's basically a murderous criminal with a badge.
- Lack of Empathy: An egotistical and ruthless sociopath who bullies others with zero remorse which makes him despicably sinister as a person.
- Large Ham: Completely chews the scenery every time hes on screen. You can tell Denzel Washington had a lot of fun with the role.
- Laser-Guided Karma: He leaves Jake to die at the hands of Smiley and his cronies, but Jake manages to get out alive. Following this, Jake not only takes Alonzo's badge but the money he needs to pay off the Russians.
- It goes even further because Smiley and the gangbangers Alonzo enlists to kill Jake end up sparing him because the girl he saved from getting raped earlier in the movie was Smiley's cousin. (Something Alonzo didn't seem interested in doing and didn't bother helping Jake to stop)
- Manipulative Bastard: In spades. He manipulates everyone with his charisma and intelligence, but eventually he can't keep it going.
- Moral Myopia: Seems to think that any means are justified as long as a criminal is taken down. Even if it means he spends almost all his time committing crimes worse than the criminals themselves, up to and including premeditated murder.
- Multiple Gunshot Death: He's ruthlessly gunned down by the Russian Mafia when he cant pay them the money.
- Oh, Crap!: First when the neighborhood abandons him, and then when he realizes the Russians are about to kill him.
- Rabid Cop: He'll threaten any criminal he catches and tends to use excessive violence when subduing suspects, even having paralyzed Blue when he shot him for unknown reasons and threatening to cut off a rapist's balls, only relenting because he had a schedule to keep.
- Sadist: He takes great pleasure in threatening criminals and innocents alike, relishing in their fear and pain. After he shoots Roger in the chest, he mockingly tells him to breathe so it'll hurt more.
- Scary Black Man: He's a very vicious and intimidating monster with a very violent temper.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: He thinks he's above the law because he works for the Three Wise Men, who are corrupt cops in high-ranking positions. It's through them that Alonzo gets permission to rob and kill his long-time drug contact. However, the alternate ending revealed that it was the Three Wise Men who sent Hoyt to make sure Alonzo didn't pay off the Russians.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Being a raging egotist, he considers himself a king on the street where he's outside culpability for his actions.
- Secret Test of Character: Half of his actions are interpreted by Jake as this. They're not.
- Shot in the Ass: By Jake.
- Sink-or-Swim Mentor: He's a deconstruction of this trope. He might seem like a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who's trying to prepare Jake for the dog-eat-dog reality of policing the street, but the reality is that he's just trying to corrupt him. When that doesn't work, he easily discards him and reveals the depth of his own depravity.
- The Sociopath: At the end of the day, despite all his charisma and some seemingly sympathetic qualities that's what he really is. A corrupt, ruthless and amoral man only concerned about his well being and who sees everyone around him as expendable.
- There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: He believes that it's wolves and sheep. An obvious third option would be "sheepdog," which police often use as a metaphor for their profession, but it's never brought up, lampshading Alonzo's idea of justice as being a bigger, badder "wolf".
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Russian Mafia shoot him roughly a million times.
- Training from Hell: He holds a gun to Jake's head, drags him into dangerous situations, and tricks him into smoking PCP-laced marijuana...on his first day.
- Undignified Death: He spends his last moments futilely and pathetically trying to flee from the Russians before being gunned down.
- Villain with Good Publicity: He's a decorated veteran officer whose corruption has been kept under wraps. It's no longer the case by the TV sequel, which is set long after his death.
- Villainous Breakdown: He has an absolutely epic breakdown when Jake finally bests him. He stops all pretence of being an tough-but-fair mentor and realist, and winds up ranting at the neighborhood he controlled about how ungrateful they are. He's practically frothing at the mouth.
- Villainous Legacy: By the time the TV sequel starts, his case is used by the LAPD Academy to teach prospective careers that by following his actions, it can effectively end your career.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Some of his actions can be interpreted this way. Others, not so much. He's a veteran police officer with a very high success rate on closing cases and is working a staggering number of them at any one time while supervising multiple younger officers, but his methods are generally brutal and extralegal. Others, such as his murder of a drug dealer friend of his so he can steal his money or putting out a hit on the main character to keep him from talking, not so much.
Officer Jake Hoyt
Played By: Ethan Hawke
- Beware the Nice Ones: He's an honest and likable cop but it's shown various times that it's not a good idea understimate him. This is shown when he fends off two addicts who tried to rape a girl, he punches Paul for having keep on suggesting Alonzo to kill him and he even remorselessly leaves Alonzo to be killed by the Russians after injuring him by shooting him in his backside. In his defense the latter really deserves that.
- Deadpan Snarker: He occasionally utters some dry and sarcastic quotes. Justified considering all the Crapsack World he lives into.
"What happened was murder...and armed robbery. Wait, we had badges, so it's different?"
- Determinator: He suffers many injures and bruises. While that slows him down a little it doesn't seem to stop him at all.
- The Dog Bites Back: After being manipulated and set up by Alonzo the whole time he finally reacts by defeating his corrupt instructor once and for all and leaving him to his death by taking the money Alonzo was supposed to give to the Russians.
- Happily Married: We can see from the movie's beginning that he lives a decent and good life with his wife and baby daughter.
- The Hero: The movie is essentially his growth from a Naïve Newcomer to a fair and balanced cop.
- Made of Iron: Hoyt can take a shitton of punishment, managing to beat down Alonzo in a fair fight even after being beaten up several times and hit by a car.
- Naïve Newcomer: He grows out of it admirably though.
- Took a Level in Badass: At the end definitely after having walk alone in a gang-ridden neighborhood to face Alonzo despite the latter's warning to never come there by himself and putting his more skilled and trained mentor to the ground.
- Token Good Teammate: The only non-corrupt member of Alonzo's team.
Played By: Eva Mendes
- Ms. Fanservice: Her only role in the film is to serve as Alonzo's attractive mistress. There's even a full frontal nude scene of her just for good measure.
Played By: Scott Glenn
- Affably Evil: Despite being a feared drug lord, he's the most friendly and genial character in the film.
- Asshole Victim: While he is betrayed and killed by Alonzo purely for his money, he was still (according to Alonzo) the biggest drug dealer in LA whose wealth derived at least partly from selling to kids.
- Retirony: Alonzo kills him right when he's about to retire.
Smiley, Sniper & Moreno
- Affably Evil: The three of them are welcoming towards Jake, putting him at ease and involving him in their card game even as they waiting for the right moment to kill him on Alonzo's orders.
- The Bus Came Back: Moreno is a recurring character throughout the television sequel.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Just how evil they are isn't really known but they're part of a feared gang or cartel and were willing to kill Jake, a man they'd never met before, for money. But when they discover Smiley's cousin's wallet in Jake's pocket, they hear Jake out when he tells them about how he saved her from being raped earlier that day, and Smiley even calls her to confirm Jake's story. Then they allow Jake to leave alive, despite risking Alonzo's wrath.
Detectives Paul, Tim Wallace, Mark, and Jeff
- Back for the Finale: Tim shows up again in the finale of the series, where it turns out that he killed Billy Craig.
- Back for the Dead: Tim in the finale of the series, when he gets killed by Kyle for killing his father.
- Beard of Evil: Tim sports a beard and is corrupt through and through.
- Churchgoing Villain: Jeff is praying on the floor after the bullet pierces his vest. This is just after he joked about needing some time off, right after his complicity in a murder.
- Jerkass: Tim and Paul.
The Three Wise Men