Dark Blue

Cop-bashing corruption drama that trundles along doing little of interest.

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 03 Jul 2003 by Scott Morris
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Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) is a tough cop, a man on the edge, a man's man, a gritty-hard nosed gumshoe that takes no nonsense from those pen pushers at city-hall, and if he has to cut corners to get scum off the streets then by God he's prepared to do it. Hardly a startlingly original character but the old ones are the best. For a dash of originality he's hugely racist, a trait seeming shared by all the white cops in the LAPD.

In accordance with the big book of cliches he's got a fairly new partner in Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). We're introduced to them sitting before a shooting inquiry board, grilling them about the fatal shooting of a subject. It's no great surprise that they are exonerated of any wrongdoing, despite the conviction from Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames) that they are lying through their teeth. It's no great surprise that he's right.

The duo are immediately assigned to the next case, a store robbery that results in the death of five people, one of them a police dispatcher. The SIS team are called in to take on the case to assist an overstretched homicide department, and are instructed by their boss Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson) to find the perpetrators quickly. Their investigation quickly turn up some facts about the store owner also owning a few dodgier enterprises, and after a few shakedowns one of the bagmen is found dead inside a fridge, clearly a sub-optimal situation. It becomes clear that they're after a safe robbery from the flat upstairs rather than a botched store robbery, and after the only remaining eyewitness regains consciousness they have a pretty clear idea of whodunnit.

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Problem is, it's not who Van Meter wants to havedunnit. Two of his pet informants and 'troubleshooters' Gary Sidwell (Dash Mihok) and Darryl Orchard (Kurupt - another rapper. It's a wonder any hip-hop ever gets made.) are fingered, but the strangely accented Van Meter tells them in no uncertain terms to pin the blame on some other patsies. For some unknown reason Glesson swings his accent between Irish and American willy-nilly, perhaps puzzled that he has a Dutch surname. The strange thing about it is that it's possibly intentional - Gleeson has no problems sustaining accents in his other films. Perhaps he just couldn't be bothered, which seems to be common throughout the cast. Rhames, Kurupt, Gleeson and Speedman all thrown in very average performances, with Mihok and Bobby's love interest Beth Williamson (the unusually named - for a woman at least - Michael Michele) putting in a pretty dismal showing. It's only Russell that shines here.

While Perry has no particular problem with pinning the blame on to other less than shining examples of the community, it rankles with Bobby. After eventually going through with the act, he can't live with the guilt and confesses to Holland about his deeds. As Holland had been fixing to take the (again) hugely racist Van Meter down it's news to his ears. The political games between the pair start to have very real physical consequences for Bobby and Perry as Van Meter attempts to shutdown any liabilities.

Now, cops in films rarely get a fair shake. There have been precious few films featuring them in any depth that haven't in some way had them being neurotic, corrupt, psychotic, insane, alcoholics, junkies, or in some other way evil. I'd like to think this isn't accurate. In the case of Dark Blue, I hope to God for L.A's sake that it isn't accurate. Literally every white cop in this movie is either overtly and offensively racist, grossly corrupt or at the very least a borderline alcoholic. In the few scenes that they aren't busy holding a gun to someone's temple to scare a story out of them they're busy holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and the bottle in the other.

I can't dismiss this as being nonsense out of hand. Undoubtedly America has its problems with racism, much like any country. Arguably it's worse, if for no other reason than it creates lots of angry people with readily available firearms, but the institutionalised racism seen in this movie beggars belief. It ends up feeling like a fairly shallow caricature of a police department rather than a convincing study.

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Ron Shelton's direction seems strange at times, as though he's trying to make it look like an episode of The Streets Of San Francisco. I half expected a youthful Michael Douglas to walk on screen at any time. Terence Blanchard provides the quite literally overblown sax based soundtrack, growing more grating each time it's played. At least it drags the date forward to sometime in the eighties. Pity the films is supposed to be set in 1992. The whole movie seems to have been intentionally filmed as a made for TV movie, with little style or panache lavished upon it. This isn't necessarily a problem if the story is compelling, but unfortunately it ain't.

An all-too common complaint, but there's nothing here that you've not seen before. It trundles along amiably enough, but everything from the cop-from-long-line-of-cops to the cop's-work-causing-tension-at-home to the corruption elements has been done before and done more entertainingly. This film's solution seems to be to throw in more corruption and alcoholism, leading to a strange ethnic division of entirely dodgy white cops and shiny incorruptible black cops. It never feels real, and it's difficult to care to much about something that feels so forced.

That's not to say it's unwatchable. If there's one compelling reason for seeing this it's Kurt Russell, putting in one of the best performances of his career and hopefully silencing his critics who say he can only play the same stereotype in everything. He is excellent in his ranting against nigh on everything at the top end of the film right through to his character's destruction at the end. His speech to the assembled multitude at the police academy, gathered to witness him ascend to the rank of Lieutenant, is almost worth the ticket price alone.

His performance can't make up for the scrappy ones of others, nor can the scrappy direction and familiar plot. It's not an actively bad film, and compared to some recent efforts is astonishingly decent, but that's hardly a basis for a recommendation.

Were I in the business of making quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 Tippymarks.

Ron Shelton
Cast list:
Kurt Russell (Eldon Perry)
Scott Speedman (Bobby Keough)
Michael Michele (Beth Williamson)
Brendan Gleeson (Jack Van Meter)
Ving Rhames (Arthur Holland)