Dark Blue Review

Dark Blue (2002) is set during the spring of 1992 as tensions are running high on the streets of L.A. The City anxiously awaits a verdict on the Rodney King trial, which would determine the fate of four police officers charged with using excessive force in arresting the black motorist a year earlier. Elsewhere, hardened detective Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) and his rookie partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), stand before a board investigating a different case. The panel must decide whether the shooting of a suspect by Keough was “within policy”. The young inexperienced Officer is subsequently let off the hook, but all is not what it seems. It appears that the truth can be easily distorted, even at the higher echelons of law enforcement. Mistakes can be papered over - all it takes is a word in the right ear.



Perry and Keough belong to an elite squad of detectives in the LAPD, entrusted with hunting down the City’s most brutal and elusive criminals. Whenever Perry’s boss Jack Van Meter (a sinewy Brendan Gleeson) instructs him to “just do what you do”, it gives him free rein to bring down the bad guys and, providing he seemingly gets results, it doesn’t matter how immoral his methods become in the process. A thorn in their side is ambitious Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), who has become convinced that Van Meter is crooked, but just needs sufficient evidence to support his case.

Back on duty, the pair are assigned to investigate a multiple homicide at a convenience store. Following some effective enquiries, they swiftly identify the perpetrators as a couple of known miscreants - Orchard (played by rapper Karupt) and Sidwell (Dash Mihok). However, before an arrest can be made, they are warned off by Van Meter and fed some blatant misdirection. Perry knows the score and, never one to question authority, is willing at first to turn a blind eye and not dig any deeper. Keough on the other hand begins to seriously question his own morality.



Dark Blue is based on a story by James Ellroy and was originally set against a backdrop of the 1965 Watts riots, given a contemporary updating here by writer David Ayer. Given those credentials, you might expect something quite special. After all, Ayer’s adept gritty script for Training Day the previous year helped propel Denzel Washington to Oscar glory. Ellroy too is no stranger to writing smart intricately plotted crime sagas, having garnered much acclaim for his novel L.A. Confidential (1997), later adapted into an Oscar-winning screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson for the classic movie. Sadly, Dark Blue is much more of a routine affair, never straying too far from a well-worn template and bringing nothing new to the table. Despite taking place in the days leading up to the Rodney King verdict and subsequent aftermath, the film is not about racism in the police per se. In more broader terms it explores a dark underbelly of the LAPD, which in truth has been blighted by numerous corruption scandals over the years. The film is given a considerable boost by Russell’s commanding presence, here playing a character so used to bending the rules that it has become entrenched to the point that Perry no longer thinks he’s doing anything wrong. It’s only during this latest investigation he finally comes to the realisation that his conduct has far-reaching consequences.

Numerous familiar faces crop up in the supporting cast, but nobody particularly gets much of an opportunity to shine in underwritten roles. Speedman is a little bland as the sidekick, certainly never in the same league as Ethan Hawke, who played a similar role in Training Day – and bagged an Oscar nomination for his efforts. Breaking Bad star Jonathan Banks is wasted in a minor part, though arguably Lolita Davidovich comes off worst playing Perry’s long-suffering wife. Former baseball player turned director Ron Shelton scored several hits with his sports themed dramas - including Bull Durham (1988) and White Men Can’t Jump (1992), failing this time to inject much life into the material. A rousing speech from Russell in the latter half of the film and a nail-biting pursuit through the riot torn streets offer some recompense, but it’s not nearly enough to make this clichéd thriller stand out from the rest.



The Disc

The film comes with a spotless 1080p transfer, preserving the original 2.35:1 ratio. There is a considerable amount of fine detail present in the image, for example Russell’s ageing features, textures in clothing and background objects are all well-defined. Levels of contrast are also impressive. "Tobacco” lens filters were used for certain scenes, and this often lends exterior shots a warm hue.

Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1, and certainly packs a punch during the brief action scenes, roaring to life during a climatic chase. Dialogue is distinct throughout and optional English SDH are also included.



Extras

An uninspiring selection of archive material produced for the film’s original release: audio commentary by director Ron Shelton, Code Blue (18:20) - a featurette on the making of the film (featuring Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames, screenwriter David Ayer & director Ron Shelton), By the Book (7:16) –  the look of the film featuring art director Tom Taylor, production Dennis Washington, costumes designer Kathryn Morrison and more, Necessary Force (6:55) –  focusses on the authentic portrayal of the cops in the film featuring technical advisor Bob Souza, Shelton and Russell. Also included is the trailer (1:58) and TV Spots.

A reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching – I’m loving that striking new artwork, which is much more eye-catching than some of MGM’s original designs. The first pressing includes a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver (not available for review).

Dark Blue (Blu-ray) hits the streets on 7th May from Arrow Video.

Film
5 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

Given the writing talent involved, Dark Blue is a disappointingly routine affair that follows a well-trodden path. Kurt Russell's commanding presence does give the film a much needed boost though. The Blu-ray boasts impressive image and audio, but extras are lacklustre.

7

out of 10

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