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Dark Blue (R)
Official Site
Director: Ron Shelton
Producers: David Blocker, Sean Daniel, James Jacks
Written by: David Ayer; from a story by James Ellroy
Cast: Ving Rhames (Arthur Holland), Kurt Russell (Eldon Perry), Brendan Gleeson , Michael Michele (Beth Williamson), Scott Speedman (Bobby Keough), Lolita Davidovich (Mrs. Perry), Kurupt (Orchard)

Rating: out of 5

Dark Blue is a better film than the last Ving Rhames movie (Undisputed) I saw, yet it didn’t provide nearly as much food for thought. It starts out loud, with the Rodney King video. Against the backdrop of a seething Los Angeles and the Rodney King trial, fresh-faced Bobby Keough (Speedman) faces a police review board, having shot and killed his first bad guy. His grizzled partner, Eldon Perry (Russell), is an old war horse with so many notches on his guns the review board practically keeps a revolving door for him. Wouldn’t you know, Keough is also the nephew of police department big shot Jack Van Meter, played with authority by Brendan Gleeson (The General, Gangs Of New York). Turns out, these guys are neither knights in dark blue, nor sea-green incorruptible public servants. These men are various shades of gray: from Bobby, the green kid who has to be schooled, to Eldon, who does whatever it takes, to Jack, the evil eminence grise.

“Whatever it takes” includes lying to review boards, extreme loyalty to brother officers, and the outright murder of suspects “shot while trying to escape.” It’s a time-tested system and it works until ambitious Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Rhames), the only no-acquit vote on Bobby’s review panel, decides to turn over the rock and see what’s underneath. With his trusted aide, Sgt. Beth Williamson (Michele), Holland begins to investigate the Keough shooting, and the trail soon leads to some uncomfortable places.

That’s about it. David Ayer wrote Training Day, The Fast And The Furious, and U-571. Clearly this male milieu thing is his oyster. Witness the extreme sidelining of the female roles. Granted, he tried to have some girl action from Michael Michele’s character. She gets to carry a big gun, but on the day her action is tantamount to tripping over high heels. Nothing subtle here. Wicked white guys are often in dark, low-lit—yes, sometimes even dark and bluish—spaces. Holland and Williamson, being the forces of truth, righteousness, and the American way, are generally in clean, well-lighted places.

Gleeson is really good as that novel movie character, the corrupt Irish cop, plus he got to be corrupt in some really nice suits. And as for Kurt Russell’s performance, well, another one of these and I’ll forgive him for Soldier. Wish I could figure out his thing. Is it that he’s good in every other movie, or the first two movies of every triplet… Anyway, he done good. Ving brought his usual exceptional Juilliard self to a role that’s actually kind of small and underwritten. I think it’s safe to say that Ayer had a much better feel for the bad men in this picture. He wrote fairly full (well more showy anyway) parts for Orchard (Kurupt) and Sidwell. They’re Van Meter’s thugs, just like Eldon, except that they’ve actual done time. As Keough, Speedman is just another vaguely attractive face that’s taking up screen space. He’s one of those Matthew McConnaughey-looking fellows who make you wonder whether one man spread his seed across the entire southwest.

The women, on the other hand, are ill-served by this story, where, for the most part, they just want to get away from these obsessed men. The wonderful Khandi Alexander is totally wasted as Holland’s long-suffering wife. She even has a scene in her underwear! It’s a mystery why Eldon’s wife (Davidovich) is still married to him. Perhaps the presence of female companions was meant to add texture to the characters of the males, but actually the sudden swerves from high-tension-wire cop stuff into the personal melodramas were just weird.

And then there are the tired movie bits, trotted out on cue: the very popular juxtaposition of a religious service with tense scenes of, or leading to, violence; scenes of rioting black folks, to scare the suburbanites; and last but not least, the very public exposé/confession scene.

But for each recycled idea, there’s something else that you either don’t see every day or haven’t seen this particular spin on. Once you have the Dark Blue setup, there’s no doubt of the ultimate outcome. And then, stuff happens and maybe the situation is in play again. This seesawing, a Kurt Russell practically chortling in his bad-assedness (but not even close to Denzel’s Alonzo Harris), plus some nice supporting male performances make this a movie that’s just so-so.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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