Rogue 10: Ten Private Eyes Who Go All the Way

Monday, 15 April 2013 14:02 Written by  iamrogue
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Rogue 10: Ten Private Eyes Who Go All the Way

Starring as Billy Taggart in Broken City, Mark Wahlberg joins the ranks of actors who have memorably portrayed private investigators, cinematic seekers of the truth who operate in a moral grey area, without a badge or a uniform.

In the thriller from director Allen Hughes, Taggart is a former cop, an incorruptible officer disgraced by a controversial shooting.  Now an alcoholic private eye, he's contracted by New York Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to spy on his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  Taggart expects a fairly standard cheating spouse case, but through his investigation, Taggart discovers a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of power, a plot that could change New York forever.

Broken City is now available to purchase on DHD, or Digital High Def, weeks before Blu-ray and DVD.  Early availability of DHD isn't the only advantage, either, as a download of Broken City comes equipped with bonus features, scene selection, and a high-definition presentation that can be viewed on your television, your computer, or portable electronic device, be it a phone, tablet, or anything in between.

With Broken City on DHD, we here at IAR have been thinking about Taggart's forebears, the onscreen private investigators who aren't just good at their jobs, they're great at their jobs.  These are PIs who go above and beyond the call of duty, solving seemingly insoluble mysteries and getting to the bottom of dangerous cases like seasoned professionals.

So, for your enjoyment, we've compiled a list of cinematic private investigators who go all the way in the course of their jobs.

Here they are:

John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart), Vertigo (1958)


Why not start with a selection from an undisputed classic?  Like so many private eyes, the protagonist of Alfred Hitchcock's much-imitated mystery was once a cop.  That was before his fear of heights resulted in a death or (possibly) two.  If he can conquer his acrophobia, however, he may just solve the mystery and live happily ever after.  Or not.

Lew Harper (Paul Newman), Harper (1966)

I should probably be saying something about how devoted to his job Lew Harper is, or how cool and collected he is, or how he so nicely fits the mold typified by another entry on this list, or even how good William Goldman's dialogue sounds coming from his mouth.  But I can't because I'm too busy staring into the endless sky blue of Paul Newman's eyes.

Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Okay, Harry's not actually a PI.  Nor is he particularly intelligent.  This aspiring magician turned criminal turned actor is only playing at being a gumshoe in order to get with Michelle Monaghan, but with the help of real PI Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), Captain Fu**ing Magic reveals a knack for the investigative arts.  Still, when he appears to be assiduously taking notes, Harry is probably sketching a cat for no apparent reason.

Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), There's Something About Mary (1998)


When you hire Pat Healy to locate the woman you loved in high school, he won't stop at finding her and spying on her.  Nope, Healy will then lie to you an go to any lengths necessary to win her for himself, including creating a fictitious dreamboat identity for himself, capping his teeth, and feeding a dog speed to ruin your eventual date with her.  That's the Pat Healy guarantee.

John Klute (Donald Sutherland), Klute (1971)


Hired to investigate the disappearance of a prostitute in Alan Pakula's thriller, titular PI John Klute doesn't just thoroughly invade the privacy of call girl Bree, played by Jane Fonda, he falls for her.  And she for him, naturally.  That's a whole other level of professional involvement for a private eye.  And for a prostitute, I guess.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Brick (2006)


Technically, Brendan's not a licensed investigator of any sort.  He's a high school student.  In Rian Johnson's high school noir, however, Gordon-Levitt's hero displays every quality of the resourceful PI, including loner tendencies, a personal stake in his detecting, a keen deductive mind, and a peerless ability to take a licking and keep on ticking.  Like Johnson's film, Brendan itself is distillation of the noir ideal, one with its stylistic trappings stripped away.

Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), The Zero Effect (1998)

How smart is Daryl Zero?  So smart that his intellect can compensate for a mountain of personality issues of such seriousness that Zero may actually be insane.  His anti-social behavior is so extreme that he only voluntarily interacts with his hapless sidekick (Ben Stiller).  And even then, it's with great difficulty and wholly unnecessary subterfuge.  The neuroses are just the cost of being the world's greatest detective.

Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy), The Thin Man (1934)


We made it all this way without some Dashiell Hammett.  The heroes of only one of Hammett's book, Nick and Norah proved popular enough onscreen to lead to a six-movie series starring Powell and Loy.  This wealthy husband and wife team is so sharp that they solve crimes in their spare time, almost as a hobby.  And they do it with style, trading impossibly witty one-liners and imbibing enough alcohol to kill a small horse.

Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), The Long Goodbye (1974)


Novelist Raymond Chandler's signature character has been played by many an actor over the years, and while Robert Mitchum's Marlowe is pretty solid, Elliott Gould's take in Robert Altman-directed adaptation brings out the disheveled best in this hard-drinking, chain-smoking, fundamentally decent guy.  He's the sort of pal who won't just drive his friend from LA to Tijuana, but will doggedly investigate the circumstances of his death, too.  And he's good to his cat.

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Was their ever any doubt?  Humphrey Bogart may not be the obvious choice to portray the hero of Hammett's most famous story, but the resulting performance ended up as the go-to private eye in the public consciousness.  It's a classic, through and through.

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