“There are no moments of miraculous self-discovery in Dark Blue, nor do any of the characters suddenly grow a conscience. Instead, as their own situations increasingly mirror the city’s own foreboding state of affairs, they experience brief moments of clarity, then struggle quietly to figure out the right thing to do.”
Racial unrest serves as a backdrop for gripping police drama
It’s been a while since Kurt Russell’s name has emblazoned movie theater marquees. Perhaps this was intentional on his part; an attempt to give viewers a chance to forget his turns in forgettable films like Vanilla Sky, 3000 Miles to Graceland, Soldier and Escape From L.A. If so, the strategy wasn’t really necessary. Any recollections of his wooden performances in those films are instantly wiped away by his riveting performance as a reprehensible cop in director Ron Shelton’s gripping police thriller, Dark Blue.
Set amid the urban unrest that exploded in Los Angeles after the Rodney King beating in 1992, the film tells the story of Eldon Perry (Russell), a racist LAPD cop with a disturbingly distorted sense of justice, and his impressionable younger partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). Fresh from a departmental inquiry concerning their questionable use of deadly force, the pair are assigned by Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), the deeply corrupt head of their unit, to investigate a high-profile quadruple homicide.
Upon discovering the murders were committed by two of Van Meter’s henchmen, Eldon and Bobby confront their boss, who orders them to steer the investigation away from his “informants” and to find a couple of ex-con patsies on which to pin the murders. While this doesn’t sit well Bobby, it doesn’t bother Eldon, who considers one criminal as deserving of punishment as another, especially if said criminal is black.
At the same time, LAPD deputy chief Holland (Ving Rhames) is waging a quiet war against Van Meter and his corrupt squad. He’s aided by his assistant, Beth (Michael Michele), who has recently begun a romance with Bobby, unaware of his connection to Van Meter and Eldon.
Throughout, constant reminders of the approaching King-beating verdict via radio and TV broadcasts create a palpable aura of stomach-churning racial tension. As the city simmers in hostile expectation, Eldon experiences the first pangs of doubt about his behavior and motives. Things come to a nerve-racking climax just as the “not guilty” verdicts are announced and rioters take to the streets.
Russell is sensational in a role that was reportedly written expressly for him, imbuing Eldon with enough muddled humanity to balance his repugnant views on society. He’s matched by a first-rate performance from Gleeson, whose vile character benefits from no such positive attributes. In a nice change of pace from typical Hollywood fare, there are no moments of miraculous self-discovery in Dark Blue, nor do any of the characters suddenly grow a conscience. Instead, as their own situations increasingly mirror the city’s own foreboding state of affairs, they experience brief moments of clarity, then struggle quietly to figure out the right thing to do.
(Appeared in Gay City News)