Anchor Bay // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // September 23rd, 2009
The Big Easy is losing the fight.
Always a fan of a good cop movie, I was looking forward to seeing Val Kilmer (Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang) acting tough and shooting people. But the straight-to-video release didn't speak well of Streets of Blood (Blu-ray).
Six months after losing his partner during Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans cop Andy Devereaux (Kilmer) prowls the streets meting out justice in a less-than-by-the-book fashion, supported by his novice partner Stan Green (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Get Rich or Die Tryin').
Investigated by an FBI agent (Michael Biehn, Aliens), their psyches probed by a department shrink (Sharon Stone, Casino), Andy and Stan struggle to stay on the right side of the law while corruption crouches in on all sides, looking to put away a wide-reaching drug network in the city.
You might wonder why we need another cop movie dealing with corruption and abuse of power. True, it's not a terribly original premise, and Streets of Blood isn't a great movie. It's a better one than I was expecting, though, taking a slightly new angle on the material and using New Orleans' unique circumstance to provide an interesting context.
Val Kilmer plays Andy straight, not incorporating the types of quirks or flash we've seen in some of his previous works (although he does sport some mighty white shoes), and yet not overplaying the darkness in his character's past. Andy isn't overwritten: mostly he's a hardworking cop, impulsive and a good shot, who doesn't drink too much, isn't a philanderer, and doesn't live on a boat. Same thing goes for Stan Green -- he's got a wife and a family, became a cop because it was a job, and is occasionally tempted by the stacks of thousand-dollar bills left behind by perps he has perforated. No drug habit, no overbearing father to please. A big part of what I liked about Streets of Blood is the number of genre conventions the filmmakers chose to leave out in the name of telling a straightforward story.
That story is morally ambiguous, with nearly every major character on the take in some way, and few of them feeling bad about it. What they saw and experienced in the aftermath of the hurricane informs the motivations of their actions, and has set their internal compasses somewhat askew, blurring the line between right and wrong. Early on, we're led to believe we know who the bad guys will end up being; later we learn everyone's bad to one degree or another.
It's unfortunate, then, that things get a little too clever in the last third of the film. Hidden loyalties and backroom deals are revealed, suddenly making the world of the film unrealistically small and neat. With such intriguing characters, I would've liked a broader scope for the story, if only to let their natures stay consistent throughout the piece. The ending, too, is flawed, although in this case it's the low-key performances that undermine the serious decision that ends up being made. What should be a gripping, breathless conclusion comes across as overly casual and falls a bit flat.
What's not flat is the wonderful picture quality of this Blu-ray. Shot on high definition cameras, the image is glossy, colorful, and extremely well-detailed. Much of the lighting is natural -- coming from streetlights, through windows, and so on -- which adds to the realism of the story; Cinematographer Roy Wagner seems to have found inspiration in the film Miami Vice, using a similar palette. There is no noticeable edge enhancement, and digital noise is only apparent during low-light scenes. Bitrates are in the high-20s for most of the film. Audio is presented in both PCM 5.1 and high-bitrate Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and although there's not a whole lot of aggressive ambience, all of the channels eventually get a workout. The beat-heavy soundtrack's thumping bass and blasts from Andy's shotgun wake up the subwoofer, and the surround channels are very active during the handful of shootouts. Dialogue is easily intelligible and distortion free.
The behind-the-scenes featurette is useless, 9 minutes long comprised mostly of film clips. The short snippets of cast and crew interviews that are included are reasonably insightful, which just made me wish there was more to them and fewer scenes from the movie I just watched. On the other side of the spectrum, the audio commentary with director Charles Winkler (The Net 2.0) is a great listen. Winkler is chatty and candid, speaking early on about a loud fight he had with Kilmer that got so heated he had to clear the set, telling amusing anecdotes about shooting locations and the grueling schedule of a film that takes place mostly at night. Budding filmmakers will be interested to learn that much of the picture was filmed with Winkler's own $8,000 prosumer digital camera, the footage cutting seamlessly with the $200,000 professional camera rented for the film. I highly recommend this commentary to even casual fans of the movie.
Streets of Blood is a pretty satisfying cop drama that has some unique character elements, but is saddled with an ineffective third act. It's gritty and has some harsh content, but it's definitely worthwhile as a rental for grownups, and those with Blu-ray capability should choose the high-def option for its top-notch picture and sound.
Streets of Blood is guilty of a misdemeanor ending violation, but is otherwise cleared of all charges.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel MacDonald; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.0 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R