1992, L.A. is at boiling point. One cop's turning up the heat.
Cop movies have always been a staple of the Hollywood diet. There is the Hero cop film, where the good guy saves the day, and then there is the Anti-Hero cop film, where the protagonist is consumed by the very evils he is chasing. Dark Blue follows the path of the tragic hero trapped between these two worlds into a downward spiral of despair and possible salvation. Does it work? Yes, but that doesn't automatically make it entertaining to watch.
Facts of the Case
If they get off, the city will burn. The tensions of the Rodney King trial have turned L.A. into a city ready to explode. Amidst this racially charged climate, Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell, Vanilla Sky, Stargate), a third generation cop in the LAPD, is training his new rookie partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman, Underworld), the realities of police corruption and mode of operations. But Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction, Mission Impossible 2) doesn't buy Perry's interpretation of "justice," and is trying to prove how far the corruption goes within the LAPD.
When a quadruple homicide/robbery goes down, Eldon and Bobby's boss Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson, 28 Days Later, Braveheart) sends them to investigate. As the evidence pours in, and the facts don't add up the way they should, machinations behind the scenes conspire to make the pieces fit. In this world of black and white answers, Perry finds himself forced to live in the shades of grey, where sometimes doing what is right, isn't right at all.
This movie should have been so much better than it is. It has all the right pieces—a good director, good actors, writers who have already proven themselves more than capable—yet somehow it doesn't make it. As cop movies go, this one has an impressive pedigree: based on the book written by James Ellroy, who brought us L.A. Confidential, and a screenplay written by David Ayer of Training Day. This should have been a walk in the park after the success of those last two, but sometimes the third time just isn't the charm.
The movie starts with the Rodney King beating, then fast forwards to the day of the verdict, then backtracks five days, then slowly resumes back to the start of the riots. Here is the first problem: it's too loose. Training Day compressed all the elements into one 24-hour period, squeezing all of the tension and drama into a focused realm. Here it unfolds far too slowly, with an almost connect-the-dots feel of a mail-order moviemaking kit. Here's the scene with the cops in a bar. Here's the scene of the cops beating down a suspect. Here's the scene where the seasoned vet fathers the young rookie. All of it has been done before, not that there is anything wrong about doing it again, but it gets old after awhile. The movie only starts to get really interesting at the very end, when the riots begin. If the movie took place in the five days after the verdict was reached, it would have been better in clubs…I mean spades.
Not that the actors didn't give it their best, which they certainly did. Kurt Russell again gives us another severely underappreciated performance as the beleaguered cop trying to come to terms with his own personal demons. The three-page speech he gives towards the end checks political correctness at the door and says it like it is. It's a breath of fresh air, and a lot of fun to watch. Ving Rhames' character, handicapped only by its limited usefulness, is relegated to giving close personal confrontations. The script doesn't allow much room for him to breathe, but his presence on the frame conveys much more than the script reveals. The only character that didn't work for me is Scott Speedman's Bobby. His virginal rookie cop persona rang hollow. Every cop has to start somewhere, but his pushover of a character had about as much inner-strength as a jellyfish. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the director wanted, so at least half the blame lies with him. But I still say the character was approached from the wrong direction.
Some of the causal violence depicted early on is actually quite disturbing to watch. It's not that it is cool and calculating; in fact, it is almost the opposite. The characters could have as easily been brushing their teeth as they were committing these atrocities, like they had prewritten the days activities on a to-do list.
1. Eat breakfast
This causal indifference is quite raw to watch. Maybe I'm just getting too old and turning into a crotchety old man. Nah.
As for the technical aspects of the disc, the colors are cool and stay in the blue hue as per the title might suggest. There is some noticeable edge enhancement and haloing present, but not enough to seriously distract the viewer. There is a little grain, but in this regard it helps maintain the gritty aspect depicted in the scenes.
The soundtrack is available in Dolby Digital 5.1, but nothing overly strenuous grapples the speakers. Ambient noises are subdued and muted, with the dialogue concentrated in the front center speaker. There is no hiss or distortion, and the few action packed scenes use some nice directional effects, but overall it is not the most impressive mix.
The extra content included begins with a commentary track by director Ron Shelton. Shelton, who openly admits that he usually directs sports films (such as Bull Durham), compares the similarities between sport films and police dramas. His presentation is calm and even-tempered, but not monotone either. He dwells on the technical aspects of the film, who played what, how each scene was shot, and how events depicted compared to the events that occurred in reality. I was surprised to hear when he started talking about the mistakes he made while making the film, such as wrong set choices and scenes that he would like to have added that were afterthoughts. It's pretty rare these days to get anyone to admit they made a mistake, let alone a Hollywood director. So if for nothing else, his candor makes the commentary worth listening to.
The three featurettes included cover the other aspects of making the film.
Code Blue looks at the creation of the script from the James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) novel and the adaptation from David Ayer (Training Day). Casting choices are explored, and a look into the "locker room" mentality of sports and cops is examined. It is the longest of the three, and fairly bland as well.
By the Book is a short piece on sets and costumes. Adequate, but nothing to get your heart pumping.
Necessary Force is the most informative of the three, and the most engaging to watch. This segment offers a profile of the real SIS division of the police force, as well as the technical direction of the film, such as the planning the riots. The map of the street showing the locations of every piece of organized chaos is fascinating; it's too bad it is only on the screen for a few seconds.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Race relations are not explored at all, and they only serve as the backdrop to the film. This isn't a film about the Rodney King trial, but another look at the outcome from the police's point of view. It is a tired approach that is more depressing than offering any samples of hope for a better time in the future. That movie has yet to be made.
When there are so many other better cop movies out there, it's hard to justify adding this one to your collection until the others are already in it. Rent this one first, and then wait for it to drop below $10 until you buy it, if you still want to.
Guilty of libel and impersonating a good cop movie, but sentence is suspended due to prior contributions to the genre and the preadmission of the mistakes that were made. Case dismissed.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary
Review content copyright © 2003 Jonathan Nelson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.