The only rule is…never blow your cover.
Deep Cover is a engrossing drama pretending to be an action oriented film noir and to its credit it works on both counts.
The film opens on Christmas Eve 1972, where a young Russell Stevens watches his father die in his arms after a failed, drunken attempted robbery. Flash forward 20 years to Cincinnati where a grown-up Russell Stevens (Laurence Fishburne) is a beat cop trying to make a difference. It is there he meets a DEA agent named Carver (Charles Martin Smith). Carver is looking for someone to go so deep under cover that they stay there. Stevens has his misgivings but Carver overcomes them by quoting from Stevens' psychological profile "You score almost like a criminal. You resent authority and have a rigid moral code, but no underlying system of values. Look at all your rage and repressed violence. Under cover, your faults will become virtues." Stevens wants to know how Carver knows so much about it and all Carver has to reply is "I'm God and God knows all."
In a true mark of most film noir, the movie has narration by Fishburne, who, now on the streets of LA, has become John Q. Hull. Once on the streets he works his way into a circle of mid-level drug distributors, becoming very close to a drug dealing lawyer, David Jason. Jason is played with a wry and quirky sense of danger by Jeff Goldblum. His performance gives the film a lot of its "anything can happen" tension.
Through his association with Jason, Stevens/Hull rises through the ranks in a bloody fashion. Fishburne is forced to agonize over moral decisions involving good and evil. Decisions that force him to dive deeper into the heart of his own darkness—and once there, hoping that he can still do some good. It is this struggle between light and dark that set Deep Cover apart from most films of this kind. Fishburne agonizes over a situation where he must kill a fellow drug dealer. He has bitter arguments with Smith over the actions he is forced to make. In the end though, he is the good soldier and he knows that he has truly gone too deep.
It is when, as the son of an alcoholic, he breaks his lifelong vow to not drink or take drugs, that we know he has walked thru a door that can never be closed again.
Do not think that though that this film is just discussing age-old topics of right and wrong. It is also a fresh and exciting piece of filmmaking. There is one set piece in the film, the obligatory car chase, where the conventions of the genre are tossed out the window. The quirky nature of the material is a goldmine for Goldblum, who seems to relish being in this kind of film. Fishburne may be the somber, questioning center of the movie but Goldblum gives it its flavor and spice. The film is directed with precision by Bill Duke and written by Henry Bean and Michael Tolkin.
This disc comes courtesy of New Line so you know it is going to look good. Most of the film is set in dark and lonely places and the picture holds up very well. The only spots of grain take place in a crack house and I think it was the filmmakers' intention for them to look that way. All in all another winning transfer from New Line. It is with the sound however that I had some problems. The film has been re-mastered in 5.1 surround and for the most part, the surrounds are limited with dialogue coming from the front and center speaker. So far so good. But at the 50-minute mark, the sound started putting out some low-level hiss and pop. The distractions remained until about the 53-minute mark when everything went back to normal—strange.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I'm thrilled with the care New Lines shows their catalogue titles, I really wish this disc had a commentary track. I would have loved to hear further insights into the film and its production. Plus I can only imagine how funny Goldblum would be for an extended period of time.
This is a hard boiled film noir that asks a lot of questions about right and wrong and how far one person would go to do the "right" thing. This is the third time I've watched this film and I can easily imagine wanting to sit through it again.
Deep Cover is to my mind, one of the most under-rated films of the 1990s and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Rent it. Buy it. See it.
Director Bill Duke is acquitted to go out and challenge us again. New Line is ordered to check its sound masters before releasing its product. Case dismissed! Next!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Theatrical Trailer
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