ark Blue" is not your typical Ron Shelton
movie. Who knew that Shelton, known mostly for light human drama in the guise of
Sports Movies like "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump",
could direct such an intense police drama like "Dark Blue"? I
Set against real-life events that took place in L.A. back
in 1991, "Dark Blue" tells the fictional story of Eldon Perry (Kurt
Russell), a good cop who has gone very bad a long time ago. In his own mind,
Perry is still doing a cop's job, which is to bring in the bad guys at all
costs. But somewhere along the way Perry has come under the thumb of Jack Van
Meter (Brendan Gleeson), a high-ranking bureaucrat who runs the elite police
unit that Perry leads. Van Meter is untrustworthy and wholly evil, and there's
no two ways about it.
After two criminals slaughter their way through a liquor
store robbery, Van Meter assigns Perry and his young partner Bobby (Scott
Speedman) to investigate. But it's not the real culprits that Van Meter wants,
it's patsies. While Perry is trying to serve Van Meter and keep Bobby under
control, Assistant Police Chief Holland (Ving Rhames) is trying to bring Van
Meter down to further his own career. The question is, who will get to whom
first, and who will survive the L.A. riots that's building up steam like a
vengeful God in the background.
"Dark Blue" is a terrific film, and has the
gritty and hardcore feel of last year's "Training
Day". The two films are actually very similar -- both has the premise
of a young idealistic cop partnered up with a brutal and bad veteran cop. (Of
the two, "Day" is clearly the more honest and hard-to-take.) It isn't
long before Bobby is starting to have doubts about Perry and the job, and he
turns to Beth (Michael Michele), who is Holland's assistant, for help. (Yes,
"Michael" Michele is a woman. And no, her parents' reasons for giving
her that name isn't progressive, it's just dumb.)
Kurt Russell ("Soldier")
gives, without a doubt, his best performance to date. This film, and "The
Thing", marks his best work as an actor, not a movie star. He's
on target here, bridging the thin gap between bad and good cop effortlessly.
Russell's Perry comes from a long line of cops (or "gunfighters", as
he puts it), and it's genetics more than anything that pushes him to the edge.
To be honest, Perry isn't really a bad cop, or even a bad guy. He's just a man
who needs to see justice done, and if he has to lie to himself so he can sleep
at nights, he'll do it. The phrase "the ends justifies the means" is
everything to a man like Perry.
The only other actor in "Dark Blue" that matches
up to Russell's intensity is Brendan Gleeson ("28
Days Later") as the vile bureaucrat Van Meter. Gleeson is the epitome
of evil, a man who has forgotten all about law and order and only cares about
profits and maintaining the status quo. In the end, it's Gleeson's Van Meter
that is Perry's real enemy. As the crusading cop, Ving Rhames ("Undisputed")
barely registers; his character has so little to do that I'm not even sure why
an actor of Rhames' caliber would take such a small and uninteresting role in
the first place.
The screenplay by David Ayer (who also wrote "Training
Day") is based on a story by James Ellroy ("L.A.
Confidential") and it gives no one easy outs. Perry is a cop who gets
things done but is a miserable human being by every other account; crusader
Holland is an adulterer and a man driven by ambition; and the participants of
the L.A. riots are violent thugs, thieves, and opportunists rather than civil
rights protestors. At one point, even the victim of a liquor store hold-up turns
out to be a pimp trafficking in young girls.
Which leads me to this conclusion: there really is no good
reason why the film is set in 1991 and during the Rodney King incident. I don't
understand the use of real-life events of that time or how it is necessary to
the story at hand. Germane, perhaps, but not completely necessary. The film
could have worked just fine as a straight, fictional police drama ala "Training
Day". Why exploit a subject that, 12 years later, is still a sore spot
among a lot of people?