A review of “Dark Blue” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for violence, bloodshed, language, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

 

 

Excessive violence and a high body count pale in comparison to the thrill of Kurt Russell’s unexpectedly smart performance as a redneck cop on the edge.

Think “Narc” or “Training Day”, and back it up ten years to the tumultuous eve of the Rodney King verdict.  LAPD Officer Eldon Perry’s (Russell) job is to uphold the law and protect the innocent, but hell, it’s every man for himself and Perry knows it.  As a member of the elite Special Investigations Squad, Perry is the master of tough street tactics and a gritty enthusiasm for playing fast and loose with the rules.

SIS Rookie Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) is new to the beat - thrown feet-first into a high-profile quadruple homicide alongside Perry. Initiation into the brotherhood is a given, considering that Keough is the nephew of sinister SIS boss Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson).  Internal strife comes calling in the form of virtuous, African-American Chief Assistant Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), whose no-nonsense approach pits good guys against bad, and begs the question: is single-handed justice really justice at all?

Russell has always had talent to burn, and finally gets a chance to prove it.  Based on a story by James Ellroy and directed with finesse by Ron Shelton (“Bull Durham”, “Tin Cup”), “Dark Blue” is rife with the kind of tension and betrayal that complements Russell’s craggy good looks and simmering rage.  The racially charged atmosphere is a feeding ground for fury – and a portentous surrender for the men in blue who ultimately face their own demons with reluctant abandon.

Back-up performers give it their all.  Gleeson is dirty through and through, slithering his way through the action with reptilian aplomb.  Rhames’ moral dignity is just what the story requires to split the racial and social hostility down the middle. Speedman, a moody “Felicity” alum, comes to the plate with surprisingly healthy portions of naiveté and soul.

Stagy dialogue and semi-clichéd set-ups occasionally threaten to push the film over the edge, but the narrative manages to teeter on the verge of respectability with its own brand of temperamental honor. Bottom line, Shelton’s got game, and he proves it again in “Dark Blue”.