Dark Blue
3 out of 5 stars
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Set during the Rodney King trial in 1992 Los Angeles, watching this film is unsettling partly because we know that violence is about to erupt in the city. But it's also a compelling and gripping drama all its own. Eldon Perry (Russell) is a third-generation cop working to clean up the mean streets of L.A. by any means necessary, which usually involves seriously bending the law. His new partner Bobby (Speedman) is only just coming to grips with the deep corruption in the police department, which reaches up to his top-cop uncle (Gleeson). Meanwhile a tenacious police chief (Rhames) is trying to clean up the system with the help of a strong-minded sergeant (Michele).

Essentially this is a voyage of discovery for Perry, and Russell plays it very well. This is a villainous character, somehow able to justify the most brutal actions without a twinge of conscience, and yet we identify with him simply because Russell plays it so sympathetically. It's especially compelling as real life starts to chip away at his veneer in the shape of his bitter wife (the excellent Davidovitch), the struggling Bobby (Speedman is superb) and the impending chaos of the Rodney King verdict. All of the characters are fascinatingly well written and played, blending the good and bad sides of their personalities much more effectively than in Ayers' last film, Training Day (here only Gleeson is pure evil). Meanwhile, Shelton's directing style is both naturalistic and heightened--the film feels like it was soaked in both alcohol and blood! These are deeply conspiratorial, corrupt, arrogant white men ... and it's not merely symbolic that the two cops on their trail are both black! Or that their low-life informants are a salt-and-pepper team (Kurupt and Mihok). The film is jammed with meaning, even if the reap-what-you-sow moral is a bit heavy-handed. As it builds to its tense, action-packed finale, there are more than a few surprises in store (and one rather over-the-top speech), but the film keeps its focus squarely in Russell's eyes. And he never lets us down.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Jul.03

dir Ron Shelton
scr David Ayer
with Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Kurupt, Dash Mihok, Lolita Davidovich, Khandi Alexander, Jonathan Banks, Dana Lee, Chapman Russell Way
release US 21.Feb.03; UK 4.Jul.03
United Artists
03/US 1h58

Partners in crime (fighting): Speedman and Russell.

russell rhames gleeson
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall