Opening with video footage of the Rodney King assault, Dark Blue takes the viewer on a journey through the maze of police corruption in the LAPD circa 1992. Directed by Ron Shelton, the film follows five days in the life of Special Investigation Squad officer Elrod Perry (Kurt Russell) as he breaks in a new recruit who is introduced to a world in which the line between cop and criminal is blurred at best. If this all sounds slightly familiar then one look at the writing credits will explain all. Originally conceived by James Ellroy and set during the Watts riots of the sixties, it was then turned into a screenplay by David Ayer, the writer behind Training Day, the film that Dark Blue most resembles.
Lets cut to the chase, Kurt Russell owns this film. From the opening minutes to the dying seconds he dominates with what is arguably his finest cinematic performance. He turns what could have been a two dimensional character into a believable individual, a man who sees the world in black and white, a man who sees himself as a gunfighter upholding the law in a violent world. Elrod Perry is a dangerously charismatic and ambiguous person, he has his own moral code and, key to Russell's performance, doesn't see himself as a bad guy. In one pivotal scene when talking about his family's links to the police force he states - "the only reason this city's here is because they built it with bullets!" In Perry's mind he is the good guy, the modern day cowboy continuing a paternal legacy, righting wrongs and protecting the innocent by any means necessary. Indeed, if this type of no nonsense shoot first ask questions later cop was in a film from twenty five years ago he would be the hero and probably played by Clint Eastwood. But rather than a vigilante cop who bucks the system Perry is part of a system that actively assists and legitimises his actions. Brendan Gleeson, who gives another one of his assured performances as Kurt's superior, helps in creating this world of corruption. Their scenes together give the impression that they are part of a white gentlemen's club, an exclusive gang rather than a law enforcement system. They are soldiers fighting a war rather than police officers, a war in which the notion of right and wrong is questionable and everyone is expendable cop and criminal alike.
The remaining cast members are OK, with Scott Speedman as the young rookie Bobby Keough bringing the audience into this dangerous world in which cops kill unarmed lawbreakers and cover-ups are commonplace. At literally the other end of the scale we have Ving Rhames as the honest church going opposite of Russell's character. To be fair he hasn't got a lot to work with, his character is pretty one-dimensional but serves his purpose as the honest cop in a corrupt precinct. Michael Michele as his assistant is also fine, but seems like a token female role in this male dominated movie.
What lets this film down slightly is the plot, not helped by Ron Shelton's rather flat direction. The basic premise of a seemingly normal robbery case that ends up opening a whole can of worms is quite good but despite this interesting setting it never really gives the audience anything they haven't seen before. The relationship between Perry and Keough is interesting and the conflict between the two is pretty well handled but it is all very much by the numbers. The domestic angle between Perry and his wife promises much but is a wasted opportunity to gain further insights into his character. One scene between him and his wife comes out of nowhere, hinting that maybe there were other domestic scenes left on the cutting room floor. Many of the elements are far too familiar from the rookie/veteran cop partnership to the romantic subplot, but the Rodney King trial/LA riots backdrop gives the movie a little more depth. Indeed it is hard not to conclude that these fictional corrupt cops are representative of a system that was in some way culpable or implicit in the terrible actions of those four officers. The final act ranks up the tension as the plot threads come to a head amidst the LA riots and Ron Shelton's directorial skills are at last evident here. Once again Kurt Russell steals these scenes, as he does with a powerful monologue at the films climax.
In the final analysis Dark Blue is an enjoyable if slightly formulaic police corruption thriller, suffering slightly from the high expectations of the writing credits. Its factual backdrop does offer a new edge, giving the film more relevance and realism but it is the central performance from Kurt Russell that saves the film from mediocrity. So whilst not on the same level as either Training Day or L.A. Confidential, Dark Blue is still worth a watch for fans of those aforementioned classics.
American writer and director with an interest in examining the male psyche, usually in sports movies like Bull Durham, Cobb, White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup and Play It To The Bone. Among his other films are Under Fire (which he only wrote), Blaze, Dark Blue and Hollywood Homicide. He frequently casts Lolita Davidovich, his wife.