Sunday, June 27, 2010
The movie opens with Sergeant Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) pacing in a hotel room, seemingly coming to a decision, and leaving with a shotgun. The movie flashes back to five days earlier; I find that especially informative as a viewer, because now I know that Sgt. Perry will decide...something...in just five short days. The suspense is killing me! What did he decide?!? He decided to start the actual movie with a convenience store robbery; two thugs (Dash Mihok and rapper Kurupt) appear to be trying to steal the cash register, but in reality are looking for a secret safe. In the process, these two thugs kill four people and wound one. Meanwhile, Detective Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) is across town, defending his use of deadly force to a police board; Sgt. Perry, Keough's partner, backs up his story and they leave with Keough being exonerated. In and after the hearing, we meet two important characters. The first is the Assistant Police chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), who is very suspicious of the shooting and is connected to talks about cleaning up the police department. The other is Jack Van Meter (the undeniably Irish Brendan Gleeson), Keough and Perry's superior. In private, Van Meter cuts through the crap with his subordinates and we learn that Perry did the shooting that Keough is accused of; apparently, Keough didn't have the guts to shoot another human, so Perry did the dirty work for him. It is more or less explicitly stated that Van Meter and Perry are the type of cops that will plant evidence to convict someone they believe is guilty, but only if they can save the taxpayers money by staging an "escape attempt" that turned fatal. Van Meter is a dirty cop, and the convenience store shooting was ordered by him. While Perry and Keough figure out who committed the murders, Van Meter flat out tells them to choose another pair of perpetrators to blame for the crime --- and make sure that they don't make it to trial. Yikes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where this story is going. Perry stays loyal to Van Meter, but Keough is new and is confused and disillusioned with his superiors. Eventually, that disillusionment leads to Keough to agree to help Arthur Holland in his quest to catch crooked cops.
While the story is fairly stock, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the acting. While this isn't Kurt Russell's best work, it is always nice to see him play someone with an edge. So much of the time, it feels like he is trying to coast on his Disney-era boyish goo looks and Overboard-era Supermullet, but he can play bad when he want to, and he does so with charm. Here, he plays a cop that is clearly a bad guy, but at the same time, he still appears to be someone's fun drinking buddy. Ving Rhames, sadly, is not given much to do here, but he delivers when he gets the chance. I always like seeing Rhames in scenes that require him to stare down other characters. I know I would look away from angry Ving, wouldn't you? Brendan Gleeson was also pretty good here. He usually plays characters that are much more virtuous, but I liked him as a complete bastard here. Scott Speedman probably had the most difficult role in this movie, since it was the most emotionally diverse; unfortunately, his role required more than he could deliver. Aside from possibly playing Scott Stapp in a Creed biopic, I have no use for Speedman as an actor.
The story was equally hit and miss. Yes, the plot was fairly derivative, but it made a great choice by being set in the days before the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, with the film's climax and the acquittal of the LA police officers involved in the King beating occurring on the same day. In retrospect, it's an obvious time and locational choice for a movie about police corruption, but it's the only film I've seen that takes advantage of the obvious story parallels. The story manages to veer away from this tense situation by inserting not one, not two, but three subplots about the love lives of these policemen. None of these stories is particularly interesting, despite a solid performance by Lolita Davidovich as Perry's wife. I found both Michael Michele and Khandi Alexander to be underwhelming, at best, and annoying, at worst, as the women in Holland and Keough's lives. On the other hand, the screenwriter David Ayer's dialogue is pretty good, as are the parts of the story that deal with crime and corruption. The film takes a noticeable turn for the worse after Kurt Russell's character reaches a turning point; Russell does a good job with his character's progression, but the overall film suffers at his expense. Director Ron Shelton doesn't try and do much of anything fancy in this movie, opting to let the LA riots do a lot of the work for him. I am disappointed in Michael Michele and Scott Speedman's performances, though, because they could have really made this movie work. Neither is a particularly accomplished actor, so Shelton needed to do a better job guiding their performances to mediocrity (or even better).
Honestly, I liked Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames and Brendan Gleeson. If these guys wanted to make another cop movie, I'd totally be there to watch it. I thought the framing device (opening the film with Russell in a hotel, which is just a snippet of a scenes toward the film's end) was clumsy and completely failed in its attempt to establish suspense. The subplots only slowed this movie down, and at almost two hours, it could have used some trimming. At its core, there is a good story about police and corruption buried here. It would only take some editing and a fourth halfway decent lead actor to make that happen, neither of which Dark Blue had the benefit of.