Dark Blue

March, 2003, Drama

Directed by:Ron Shelton

Starring:Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Brendan Gleeson, Ving Rhames, Dash Mihok, Kurupt, Khandi Alexander, and Kaila Yu

There are few leading men in today’s American movies more inherently likeable than Kurt Russell; like the young Tom Hanks or James Garner's television series characters, Russell, (now 52 years old) never seems to lose the ability to present himself as someone you'd be comfortable having a beer with at a barbeque in your own back yard. There's just a trace of good 'ole boy in Russell, coupled with enough self-confidence to suggest he never has to try too hard because he's perfectly comfortable in his own skin. Not a bad trait in an actor and no small feat in the bargain.

Casting Russell against type, director Ron Shelton, who's directed some of the best sports-themed movies of the past 20 years, (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup) delivers this crime drama based on a story by James Ellroy, the author of L.A. Confidential. The combination should have been terrific, but in this case, cast & plot are blended in such a weak script that the result doesn't do justice to the ingredients.

Blue is purposely set in the first year after the Rodney King affair: Russell plays  L.A. policeman Sgt. Eldon Perry Jr., a career detective from a long line of the same who views his job with the weary cynicism of someone who knows how far the real world is from the one imagined by the city’s average citizen. He's assigned to work with Bobby Keough, (Scott Speedman) a young detective who combines impressive family connections in the department with a disturbing hesitancy to use his authority as a cop on the street. Their boss, (played by the always interesting Brendan Gleeson) assigns Perry the task of getting his protégé over any scruples about bending the rules, especially when a pair of informers Gleeson is employing for his own purposes get violent in the commission of a robbery. As Perry perverts his partner's innocence, he struggles to retrieve his own honor in the face of increasing pressure from his superior to continue a police cover-up. An honest Deputy Chief of Police, (Ving Rhames) sets his sights on bringing Gleeson's illegal activities to an end and taking those who've done his bidding down with him. Against the background of the riots which followed the exoneration of the arresting officers in the King case, Perry finally confronts his demons in a melodramatic climax that contrasts poorly with the ominously surreal depiction of the chaos the riots themselves. The plot’s far sillier than this summary; it includes an inter-racial love affair between Perry's young partner and a gorgeous lady cop, (who just happens to be the Deputy Chief’s aide), a rivalry between Gleeson and Rhames that’s as silly as it is inadequately developed and a climatic standoff between the good and bad guys that borders on the laughable. 

But the central fault in the script lies in its attempt to portray Perry's moral crisis and subsequent redemption. As the story unfolds, Russell's solid performance establishes what a louse he's become, but even this gifted actor can't generate enough credibility in his character to justify his subsequent conversion to the straight and narrow. That makes the courtroom depiction of his denunciation of police duplicity as inept as it is unlikely, subverting the movie’s much more important point about the linkage between officially condoned brutality and the frightening dimensions of the riot that grew out of it. The result is a movie with greater ambitions than its script’s capable of achieving; despite excellent performances from Russell and Gleeson and the terrifyingly impact of the off-hand violence in the film’s riot sequences, this obviously will-intentioned character study turns into a mediocre pot-boiler. 

The verdict? A lot of talent and good intentions poorly put to use. 

 

 

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