DARK BLUE (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and brief Sexuality

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Directed by: Ron Shelton

Written by: David Ayer & James Ellroy

Starring: Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Brendan Gleeson, Ving Rhames, Master P, Kurupt, Dash Mihok & Jonathan Banks

David Ayer is no stranger to gritty crime thrillers. After making a huge splash with 2001’s acclaimed TRAINING DAY, Ayer was hired on to retool a script titled THE PLAGUE SEASON. Though the new title DARK BLUE is somewhat generic, this film about corrupt cops, murderous crooks, and escalating racial tension does enough to stick out from other movies of its ilk. Though the plot moves at a slow pace for the first hour and one actor seems woefully miscast, DARK BLUE winds up being a suspenseful thriller that packs in twists, turns and a fascinating character study of a complex protagonist.

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Los Angeles, April 1992: The public nervously awaits the verdict for four police officers who viciously beat Rodney King. The city is suffocating with racial tensions at an all-time high, but this doesn’t stop corrupt police officer Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) from doing his job with extreme prejudice. Perry’s precinct is as dirty as they come, with corruption leading straight to the top. When Perry’s rookie partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) is exonerated from a suspicious shooting, Assistant Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) and Lieutenant Beth Williamson (Michael Michele) become determined to clean up the precinct…starting with Perry, Keough, and their powerful boss Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson). Meanwhile, Perry and Keough are assigned to investigate a convenience store murder-robbery that isn’t as simple as it seems.

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One big quality that immediately sticks out of DARK BLUE is Kurt Russell’s performance as Eldon Perry, a character who’s as far from likable as any protagonist can be. Perry’s cocky attitude, brash way of saying horrible things that he legitimately believes, and blatantly wicked actions make him into a fascinating lead, regardless of his mountain of shortcomings and twisted moral compass. Ultimately, Perry’s story arc becomes the most fascinating part of DARK BLUE’s plot. I won’t dare spoil what occurs, but I was more than captivated by what took place during the film’s second half. Kurt Russell plays Perry as a loud-mouthed gunfighter, which seems perfectly suited for this colorful character.

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In the opposite end of the film’s performances, we have Scott Speedman as Bobby Keough. This character isn’t exactly fleshed out to a believable degree and becomes more of a walking plot point as the film moves forward, but Speedman’s wooden line delivery certainly doesn’t salvage any humanity from this cardboard cut-out with a badge. Far more interesting is Ving Rhames as Arthur Holland who serves as a main player for the first half until he’s unceremoniously regulated to the background and his sidekick takes over. Also worth mentioning is Brendan Gleeson as the scummy Jack Van Meter. Though Gleeson occasionally lets his Irish accent slip through, he manages to keep it hidden for 90% of his performance and comes off as an intimidating figure. Kurupt and Dash Mihok shine as two dim-witted thugs with more to them than meets the eye.

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DARK BLUE’s first half works as a slow-burn of escalating conflicts and plot developments. No scene feels wasted as each moment keeps a pressure cooker going to a point where action, bloodshed and bullets will erupt. That action mainly takes place during the Rodney King riots, which are set as a threatening backdrop to the main story and further capitalize upon the issues of the time (aiding major plot points as well). The riot sequences are chaotic in a good way, with small details being replicated from actual footage of the terrifying real-life events. Though the film’s noticeably uneven pacing may turn certain viewers off, those who aren’t bothered by deliberately slow scenes will be greatly rewarded during the second half and powerful final minutes.

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DARK BLUE uses a couple of familiar cop-movie clichés and sports one very weak main character (Scott Speedman’s useless rookie), but the film delivers in being a tense thriller that mixes slow suspense with gritty realistic action. Kurt Russell’s amazing performance warrants a watch by itself, though Ving Rhames and Brendan Gleeson also deliver memorable moments. The script goes into uncomfortable places and will leave the viewer with more to mentally chew on than an average cops-and-robbers thriller. Don’t expect this film to be as amazing as TRAINING DAY, but do expect to have an interesting experience and feel complicated emotional responses whilst watching DARK BLUE!

Grade: B

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