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USA 2002
Directed by
Ron Shelton
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Dark Blue

Synopsis: Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) is a veteran cop with the Special Investigations Squad (SIS) of the Los Angeles Police Department. He is tough, devoted to the job, and not afraid to bend the law to do what it takes to bring crims to justice. His new partner is rookie cop Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), a sitting duck to be lead astray by Perry. Together they set out to investigate the brutal murder of a Korean convenience store owner and several customers. The plot thickens when the subject of police corruption rears its ugly head. All this is set against the backdrop of a jury deliberating on the fate of four white cops accused of beating Rodney King, and a black Assistant Police Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) who is desperate to bring down the boss of the SIS, Jack van Meter (Brendan Gleeson).

Even though the plot sounds very familiar, I actually found Dark Blue to be a most exciting, engaging, well-acted and tightly-directed police thriller. Based on a novel by James Ellroy this is in fact quite a complex film with a broad range of issues, including race and its relationship to street crime. Scenes of drug addicted street scum shooting innocent people in cold blood were very visceral as were the riot and looting scenes later in the film.

The script has a slight tendency to oversimplify issues – for example, the good cop/bad cop paradigm – but fortunately there is enough subtlety and shades of grey within each character to avoid total stereotyping. Assistant Police Chief Holland is perhaps too full of moral righteousness to be true and Gleeson as Van Meter shows his slimy side too early to preserve the suspense. The love affair between Bobby and Beth, the black, spunky, ex lover of Holland, is also a little too neatly woven into the plot’s issues, but these are minor criticisms in the light of the overall result.

The stand-out performance is from Kurt Russell. Although Perry is a very flawed character, the challenge for Russell was to play him in a way that could still evoke some sympathy from the audience. Russell portrays Perry as more than just a familiar hard-nosed bent cop - he gives us a man fighting his own demons and ultimately open to redemption.

Compared to other police corruption films such as Training Day and Insomnia, Dark Blue scrubs up well with Russell’s performance almost more nuanced than Washington’s, although lacking the depth of Pacino’s. Filling out the cast are some scarily well-depicted crackhead low lifes, (rapper Korupt as Orchard and Dash Mihok as Sidwell). The inclusion of the long-suffering wives, Janelle Holland (Khandi Alexander) and Sally Perry (Lolita Davidovich), reinforce the human cost and marital stresses of a cop's life and add to audience empathy.

For die-hard cop film lovers, rest assured, you do get a car chase. For those who claim that all cop films are the same, this one should fall a little outside the mold. It’s certainly worth seeing for Russell’s performance.




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