Dark Blue Review

Dark Blue assembles a collection of unlikable characters and places them within the Los Angeles police force at the time of the Rodney King trial. Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) is a homophobic, racist and foul-mouthed drunk, who’s followed in his father’s foot-steps by becoming a corrupt cop. He’s partnered by Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), a fresh faced detective who has seemingly gained the position owing to his status as the nephew of James Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson). Van Meter is at the top of police force and just as corrupt as Perry, hardly surprising considering he worked with his father. Providing the moral centre are Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) and his assistant Beth Willamson (Michael Michele), both determined to bring Van Meter to justice. Indeed, following the robbery of a Korean convenience store, which leaves four people dead, these characters are brought together, and Holland gets closer to achieving his aim.

Coming from David Ayer, the writer of Training Day, Dark Blue repeats many of that film’s failings. Despite gaining Denzel Washington the much-coveted Best Actor Academy Award, the reason Training Day became such a talking point was because it played the race card, thereby courting controversy for having an African-American as the corrupt officer. Apart from this new spin on an old sub-genre, Training Day was severely hampered by its collection of one-dimensional characters, and by providing far too much information early on, creating little in the way of suspense, let alone interest. Perhaps owing to the film’s success, Ayer has done little to rectify these problems for his follow-up.

However, in a similar way to Training Day, Dark Blue has assembled a fine cast to slightly mask some of these flaws. Both Rhames and Gleeson are always dependable (Gleeson, in particular, has proved a great performances no matter what the film, whether they be I Went Down and The General or Lake Placid and 28 Days Later...), and prove to be equally watchable here. Likewise, Russell gives his finest performance since Unlawful Entry, and it these dependable actors who provide some relief from Dark Blue’s rather hackneyed take on an old chestnut.

It also becomes readily apparent that the experience of these actors holds a strong bearing on their ability to transcend the material. Take a look at the younger players, Speedman and Michele, and it is distinctly noticeable that they are finding little to work with from the material provided. Of course, this isn’t to say Gleeson, for example, couldn’t be better; after all, would you rather watch a great actor give a great performance in a great film or a mediocre one?

The major disappointment, however, comes in the form of James Ellroy. Provided with a story credit only, his presence does at least offer some hope that this film will deliver in some respects; the three previous films to be based on his material have all been fine works, from the well-known L.A. Confidential to the obscurer Brown’s Requiem via the magnificent James Woods tour-de-force that was Cop. And whilst there are still elements of Ellroy to be found (Russell’s wife, played by Lolita Davidovich, telling her husband that she is leaving him for a defence lawyer, is a particularly fine piece of black humour; Gleeson’s character has obvious similarities with the machiavellian Dudley Smith, who has appeared in a number of his novels), they often appear to be mere asides and ignored in favour of Ayer’s contrivances.

So, with the film’s problems emanating from the script one would hope that the direction would offer some respite. Initially, hopes are high owing to the presence of Ron Shelton, the director of some fine films including Bull Durham and Cobb, as well as lighter efforts such White Man Can’t Jump and Tin Cup. Sadly, Dark Blue confirms what was first suspected when Blaze was released in 1991, namely that Shelton struggles when making films that aren’t directly concerned with sports. There are the occasional glimmers of something better, such as the scene in which Perry is tracking down a perpetrator during the riots that the King verdict provoked. Trapped in his car and surrounded by smoke and vicious gangs, the picture all of a sudden takes on the air of an updated Apocalypse Now. The effect is jarring, but stunning nonetheless. Indeed, one wishes that more of the film could have adopted some of its invention, rather than provide a simple replay of genre conventions that have existed for years.

The Disc

Picture and Sound

Given that Dark Blue was made this year, it is entirely unsurprising that Momentum offer both flawless sound and visuals. Providing an anamorphic transfer, and the option of either 2.0 stereo or a 5.1 mix, everything works fine. Whilst the stereo mix offers no problems, the 5.1 option is of course preferable.

Special Features

The most interesting extras are the three featurettes. The first, entitled 'Code Blue', spends 18 minutes going through the making of the film and covers a lot of ground. The majority of the main cast and crew members are interviewed, and the information is surprisingly in-depth given the limited running time.

The other two featurettes, each lasting seven minutes, discuss the sets and costumes, and the film's realism respectively. The latter is the superior offering, and largely consists of interview material with ex-police officer and technical advisor Bob Souza. Again, despite the short lenghts, both featurettes manage to cover a lot of ground and keep the information to the essentials.

The commentary by Ron Shelton, however, is a disappointment. For the most part he falls into the trap of merely describing what is occuring on-screen, or relaying information that the average viewer would regard as common sense. Moreover, as Shelton is one of the main speakers in the 'Code Blue' featurette, a lot of the more interesting information is mentioned there.

Backing up these extras are a gallery consisting of 25 production stills plus the usual trailer and tv spots.

None of the special features have subtitles, though they are identical to those present on MGM's region 1 release.

Conclusion

A disappointment. Despite being placed in a genre has produced a number of great films (Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City, for example) and featuring a number of excellent performers in its cast, Dark Blue is let down immensely by a poor script. It may be worthwhile for fans of Kurt Russell (as said the film does feature his best performance in years), and it is ably backed up by some fine extras, though for the most part, this is a film to ignore.

Film
4 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

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