2 out of 5
Directed by: Ron Shelton
Within Dark Blue, there’s an acceptable dirty cops flick, centered around two partners – the around-the-bend Eldon (Kurt Russell), and the green, struggling between right and wrong Bobby (Scott Speedman) – and one can note David Ayer’s writing credits on the “fuck”-laden script without much surprise. There’s also an attempt to marry this to some further context, though, setting blue line politics atop the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots in 1992, and while this is admittedly heavy-handedly applied in the movie, it’s definitely an interesting and valid angle to explore, lending Dark Blue’s opening scenes some grit and immersion beyond the standards of the cop versus cop template. But after some initial pieces are in place – Bobby passes a post-shooting interview and celebrates with the good ol’ white boys in the main office, including commander Jack (Brendan Gleeson) while racist jokes and verbiage are tossed around, assistant chief Holland (Ving Rhames) glowering in the background; a curious, violent robbery is committed, and Eldon and Bobby are tasked by Jack to find some fall men for it – director Ron Shelton seems uncertain how to keep these pieces gathered as a cohesive whole, and the film completely loses any consistency of tone, or characters. That the riots become a backdrop and Holland’s pursuit of outing the systemic racism in his job is essentially forgotten until the final scenes – but let’s make sure to include a scene where commander Jack calls him the n-word, just to make sure the lines are clearly drawn – is unfortunate, given that the Eldon / Bobby plotline on its own isn’t that interesting, with Speedman’s floppy-haired grousing rather unconvincing, and Russell’s also floppy-haired (though his floppy hair is beautiful) grimacing affected well by the actor, but the script forgets if he’s racist or just mean. …And then things go from unfortunately average to just unfortunate, as cops betray cops without motivation so that, once more, those clear lines can be drawn and we have a Bad Guy; Eldon has a similarly unmotivated redemption arc (i.e. he becomes an enlightened person between scenes); and the riots are used as horror movie fodder, as Eldon coasts around fog-ridden streets and scary black men come out to bang on his car window for jump scares.
Now, is that a realistic representation of how the riots may have looked at its peak? Sure, there’s video footage that syncs up with that to a degree, but even assuming someone has the context for it – if you’re watching this without awareness of the riots, there’s nothing in the movie that helps to contextualize it, or present it as a real thing that happened with real people. It’s just: white cops are racist! and these black, shirtless men are really angry about it!
On top of this we have Terence Blanchard’s jazzy, funky score, clearing providing music for some type of noir flick that may have been more prevalent in James Ellroy’s on-paper contributions to the movie, but are completely mismatched with the attempted swagger and menace of the movie, often mishandled by Shelton in that the shooting style is casual more often than not, only rarely employing a more handheld look that matches a scene’s terseness.
Kurt Russell is sincerely quite phenomenal in his scenes, but the movie doesn’t support the attitude or emotion he brings to it.