Monday, March 8, 2010

Film Review: DARK BLUE (2003, Ron Shelton)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 118 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Scott Speedman. Screenplay by David Ayer (TRAINING DAY, S.W.A.T.). Story by James Ellroy (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) who later disavowed his involvement.
Tag-line: "Sworn to protect... Sworn to serve... Sworn to secrecy."
Best one-liner: "Your whore's dead."

Police corruption, race riots, a city on the brink- we've seen these things before.

DARK BLUE isn't going to fuel any earth-shattering epiphanies about the nature of humanity. But let me tell you what it does bring to the table...

Kurt Russell.
Wearing white tube socks with dress shoes, cackling inappropriately, and possessing an infectious, irresistible joie de vivre, Russell's been in the business of making 'middle-of-the-line' movies 'great' since THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES.

That being said, it's also one of Russell's best, most complex performances, and he runs the gamut from 'aw, fuck it' aplomb to giggly panache to unconsolable despair. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of the Rodney King beating, DARK BLUE is a period piece (note that a love scene is staged with candlelight, flowing curtains, and silk sheets- not sure if that was intentional, per sé, but- ahh, 1991...), and it examines an LAPD on the verge of reaping what it has sown- that is, "a city built on bullets.” Martini-sipping judges sign bogus search warrants, crimes are pinned on political flavor-of-the-month fall guys, and it's all done in the name of 'being a team player.' Smack dab in the middle of this is Kurt's Eldon Perry, a cop integral to this crooked system who's only now at the threshold of seeing it for what it really is. He maces bystanders, tampers with evidence at the drop of a hat, and doesn't just beat suspects– he beats witnesses! He makes Hank Quinlan look like Barney Fife, and yet, only because Kurt is so likable are you even remotely on board to see this man redeem himself.

Along the way, we've got supporting turns by a flinty Ving Rhames and an amoral Brendan Gleeson (whose American accent is spotty at best, but all is forgiven with the matter-of-fact pulse check and follow-up, "Your whore's dead."):

Anyway, the film builds to a denouement where its success does not rest on a cookie-cutter action sequence, but rather pure melodrama: and a tour de force Russell monologue provides an unexpected, completely satisfying payoff. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

I still remember the scene where Russell's character is driving thru the riots and being genuinely freaked out and afraid for his safety! A very effective scene and to think this film was directed by the guy who made BULL DURHAM!

If they ever do another BAD LT. film, they should cast Russell but of course, I guess they could just rename DARK BLUE, BAD LT: CITY OF ANGELS or something...

Sean Gill said...

Agreed- the riot scenes are pretty phenomenal and possess an unnerving realism. And I was kind of reminded of Kurt evading the gauntlet by car in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

And ha- seriously, they may as well just package the BAD LIEUTENANT, DARK BLUE, and PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS as the 'Bad Lt. Trilogy,' cause why not.