dir: Ron Shelton
[img_assist|nid=1060|title=Dark Blue Kurt|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=346|height=520]
This film succeeds where Training Day dismally failed. Which is good, because it means that in peddling the same script twice David Ayer gets to double dip and earn twice the money that he deserves. But all the same, second time lucky, eh? This time they got it right. Or at least they got it more right than in the terribly overrated Denzel vehicle.
People are always going to remember Training Day as the flick that garnered Denzel the Oscar that he should have gotten for Malcolm X, and they’re not going to remember Dark Blue. What they’re going to forget about Training Day is how badly the story fucks up halfway through, and how awful the contrived ending was. Which is a shame, because this here is a much more deserving film. Admittedly, Kurt Russell doesn’t overact constantly in every scene, but don’t hold that against him.
Set in the days during the infamous trial against the LAPD cops accused of belting the crap out of Rodney King, this story uses the lead up to the LA riots as the powderkeg setting for this story here. A decorated, respected corrupt cop called Eldon Perry takes on a young partner in the form of his nephew Bobby, whom he proceeds to corrupt as quickly as possible. Perry is openly, unashamedly racist, arrogant as all hell and not averse to getting his hands covered in the blood of unarmed criminals. He believes wholeheartedly in the ends justifying the means, and the absolute need to free the hands of police that exist as the only line of defence that middle-class society has against the poor, desperate and dark skinned. His every swagger, every ranting pronouncement broadcasts his ethos to all within eye and earshot.
He butts heads with his African American Deputy Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), where issues of prejudice supersede the requirements of the job. Perry resents him as being both a product of Affirmative Action and also because he clearly doesn’t believe he should be answerable to anyone. His direct boss (Jack Van Meter, played by Brendan Gleeson) is even more racist and corrupt, if that is at all possible, but he virtually gives Perry a green light to do whatever the hell he wants. It is only later on that we learn just how corrupt Van Meter is.
You’d think from this that an audience has no hope of being able to like any of the characters in the movie, thus making it an exercise in futility. If you can’t care about any of the characters, can’t become engaged, then you’re just watching a puppet show. I can’t say that I overwhelmingly loved or even liked any of the characters, but I still enjoyed the story all the same.
The main reason for that is Kurt Russell. He gives an excellent, believable performance. He is a character I didn’t warm to, nor did I especially respect or even admire him, even at the end. But I could believe that a character such as himself could exist, and would have existed as a remnant of the outlaw days of the LAPD, where they were a law literally unto themselves, and potentially exists today. He is a far more believable character to me than the admittedly amazing to watch Alonzo character in Training Day, who loomed so large that he was in truth a comic book villain. Here, Perry is a guy that’s blurred the line between right and wrong so many times that he can’t tell the difference between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of whatever the hell he wants.
The credit here sort of, kind of, goes more to the James Ellroy aspects of the story than anything else, for me at least. As a big fan of his work, and as a great admirer of LA Confidential, I appreciate where his stories and his characters come from. Quite often his cop characters are far nastier and more brutal than the criminals they pursue, and the ultimate villains are those with real power who abuse it, not the nickle and dime skells in the street. He simultaneously loves the heroic cop archetype and yet relishes deconstructing it in bloody, violently abrupt ways. And he has generally possessed a writing ability or focus that translates reasonably well to the big screen.
By the same token it’s foolish to deny the pulpy, cheesy excesses that Ellroy is susceptible to. They are somewhat but not entirely avoided in this endeavour. So whilst there are aspects that an Ellroy fan would see and pick up hints of in his involvement (racist cops, ‘evil’ superior that uses cops as a hit squad, unexpected death of a character, ‘good’ cops still being prone to excessive violence or ‘righteous’ executions), there are enough other elements and influences for it to stand on its own.
Although even having said that, there are certain elements in the plot that are a direct lift from LA Confidential, except it’s shorter and set closer to contemporary times. They’re ridiculously similar. Oh well, no matter. That didn’t kill it for me.
The plot, such as it is, concerns the investigation of a multiple homicide robbery at a convenience store, where the perpetrators are protected by divine providence, or at least the shielding of someone powerful in the department. Perry is told to find someone, anyone to pin it on, and he proceeds to do so. His nephew is slightly more interested in getting closer to the truth. Thus we have death and conflict.
Scott Speedman plays Perry’s nephew Bobby. He has been much maligned in the role, but I didn’t mind the guy. He’s in the role that Ethan Hawke played in Training Day. Except he’s less of a goody two shoes, and allows himself to be corrupted far easier and quicker than the formerly mentioned character. I guess they wanted to save some time.
He’s meant to be our “in” into the film, and mostly he does a decent job. He idolises and admires his uncle, but he’s his own man. Also, despite his exposure to his uncle’s pervasive bigotry, he is less concerned with the artificial divide provided by skin colour. He has a brief relationship with a fellow officer, who happens to be working in Internal Affairs, and she provides both another fly in the plot’s ointment as well as getting the chance to be his shrill detractor. I recognise the actress (Michael Michelle) from as far back as New Jack City, the Mario Van Peebles film. And whilst her acting skills haven’t necessarily improved or even varied since then, I have to say, she seems to be virtually ageless. That diet of nothing but blood must be working out splendidly for her.
Ving Rhames doesn’t really do much, taking the brunt of many of the characters’ invective in the form of racial taunts, threatening to eventually ‘get them’ but doing little about it. What he achieves at the movie’s end is handed to him on a plate because a character has a major (some might say unbelievable change of heart) and gives up the goods on the whole racket. It’s not like he earned it by being anything but noble and true of heart. So he is less of a character and more of a plot device. He does get some great lines of hambone, however.
Lolita Davidovich, an actress I’ve admired ever since I saw her in Blaze so many years ago, again gets nothing to do, playing Perry’s bitter ex-wife. It’s criminal that she is so underused in Hollywood. She’s a talented, gorgeous woman, and she gets nothing to do. Maybe it’s her name. Perhaps casting agents don’t want to cast her in big roles because they fear the wrath of, I don’t know, stupid people who’ll go berserk over the fact that her name is Lolita. What does she have to do, sleep with the director to get a better part? Jeez… That is of course a joke, since I believe she and director Ron Shelton have been literally making babies for a long time, and he tends to cast her in all his films. Lucky for her.
Director Ron Shelton does a competent job here, but it’s not bravura work by any stretch of the imagination. Though we can appreciate what he does. Some of the direction is spot on, much of it is fairly pedestrian, but the important thing is that it doesn’t detract from the story or our enjoyment of it. He is simultaneously responsible for the one of the best cop films of last year (this pickle here), one of the most violent and juvenile (screenplay for Bad Boys II), and one of the worst (Hollywood Homicide). Now that’s a hat trick to be proud of. He’s a director I have a soft spot for, having directed one of my favourite biopics ever, the film starring Tommy Lee Jones as one of the best and vilest baseball players of all time, Ty Cobb, so I guess I usually cut him some slack. But then I remind myself of the crap that he’s done, and things tend towards harmony again.
Russell, in one of the best performances of his career, as Eldon Perry is the heart of the film, and it’s with him, warts and all that we identify. We understand that he is the product of the system, ‘system’ being both the police force and the cop family that spawned him and taught him every opinion he needed to hold before he was old enough to shoot a gun. Though we can’t admire him at any point apart from when he makes a certain decision towards film’s end, we can at least be entertained by him.
So what if the film only pretends to exist in the real world? So what if it uses the setting of the LA riots and says nothing more complex than “Corruption and racism are bad, mmkay?” This film still deserves more respect than anything served up in that steaming pile of flawed social commentary known as Training Day. This film deals with the same themes, has a better story, better support performances and a better ending. But I don’t remember anyone inviting Kurt Russell to the Oscar party. Shame on you, Hollywood. Shame on you.
7 times Kurt "It's all in the Reflexes" Russell don't get no respect but should out of 10
"You really think this bullet gives a shit how tough you are, big guy?" - Dark Blue