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DARK BLUE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kurt Russell, Brendan Gleeson, Scott Speedman, Michael Michelle, Lolita Davidovich, Ving Rhames
Director: Ron Shelton
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2003

ďYou gotta be heartless in my line of work.Ē

Film ***1/2

More than a decade ago, the country watched in shock as all hell broke loose in downtown Los Angeles. Once it became known that four white LAPD cops were freed of charges of assaulting a black civilian named Rodney King, just about everyone in L.A. lashed out with uncontrollable rage, and for the next several days, the city resembled an unshakeable cloud of smoke. Director Ron Shelton, best known for his insightful sports comedies, has switched gears to make an entirely serious film that uses the Rodney King case and the resulting L.A. riots as a thoughtful backdrop to a rich and thoroughly gripping story about a LAPD unit that isnít your typical kind of protecting and serving police force.

The film opens with powerful, actual footage of the Rodney King beating, then cuts to a year later in 1992, precisely five days until the fateful verdict is announced. Kurt Russell stars in a masterfully tuned performance as Sgt. Eldon Perry, the highest ranking officer of the LAPDís elite S.I.S. unit (Special Investigations Squad). A veteran of the force as well as a third generation cop, Perry is as corrupt and prejudiced as they come, and is only concerned with closing cases at any costs as opposed to actual justice. He has a wife and a son, but pays very little attention to either or, and to top it all off, has a drinking problem.

Perry and his rookie partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), are both being questioned by Internal Affairs about a shooting that took place during a routine arrest. Not convinced that truth is being told, Deputy Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), the only one who suspects S.I.S. of extreme foul play, vows to take down Perry at all costs, which is something not even Internal Affairs is willing to do. Bobby is a young, clean-cut kid who has the undeniable appearance of a good decent cop, but it just so happens that it is his uncle, Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), runs the S.I.S. unit, and is the most dirty and corrupt of all. In other words, he is the one who orders all kinds of dirty work to be done.

The centerpiece of the movie involves a quadruple homicide and robbery of a Korean-owned convenience store. Perry and his new partner are ordered to bring closure to the case by any means. With in no time, the two are issued a phony warrant, ordered to pin the crime on two ex-cons, and see to it that neither patsy is able to tell their side of the story. As the tension builds, Bobby comes to realize that he canít go through with any further corrupt deeds. He knows the only way to make the wrong things right is to give up his partner. But guilt soon catches up with Perry, especially after his wife leaves him, and he may end up righting the long list of wrongs himself, all the while the city is on the brink of destruction.

If it sounds as if Dark Blue slightly resembles Training Day, the most superior cop flick of the last few years, itís for a good reason; screenwriter David Ayer penned the screenplays for both movies. For this film, Ayerís script comes from a story by novelist James Ellroy, who wrote none other than L.A. Confidential. Whatís most significant to point out is that although both movies have indeed similar themes, Dark Blue has many distinctions. Russellís character is much like Alonzo Harris except for the fact that by the end of the movie, his conscience gets the better of him. Perry is a cop who has long wrestled with the devil, where as Alonzo was nothing short of the devil himself. The filmís final moments are the most striking and memorable, as the riots begin to unfold, resulting in some disturbing acts of human rage.

Kurt Russell remains one of the most intense actors around, and his performance here is one of his best to date, if not THE best. Having never really played an unlikable character prior to this, Russell sinks his teeth into this role with pure flawlessness. His climatic speech at a ceremony is a riveting piece of acting and delivery. The movie also garners strong supporting work from Scott Speedman as the uneasy rookie, and Brendan Gleeson who conveys the purest form of evil.

Dark Blue is a superior and gripping cop thriller that grabs and doesnít let go, and it makes a strong companion piece to the likes of Training Day and Narc.

Video ****

MGM provides a most solid anamorphic picture for this release. The picture contains a nicely tuned level of detail and sharpness, helping to evoke the feel of the setting, which is pivotal to the movie. Colors are perfectly natural, and the picture doesnít deliver a single image flaw or setback for a second. A full frame version is also included.

Audio ***

Although there is some action in the film, Dark Blue is actually powered by dialogue for most of its running time. The 5.1 mix does this notion with the utmost quality possible, as the film is accompanied every so often by various rap tracks. The sound really kicks into high gear during the climatic L.A. riot sequences, which offer superb sound range.

Features ***1/2

The level of extras here may not plentiful, but surely good enough to fit a Special Edition bill. Included is a running commentary by Ron Shelton, three featurettes, all of which are satisfyingly in-depth, a behind the scenes photo gallery, and a trailer, as well as additional trailers for Platoon, Rocky, and Die Another Day.

Summary:

Credit to both Kurt Russell and director Ron Shelton, as Dark Blue is a razor sharp and provocative cop thriller that takes you back to the tensions of L.A. nearly a decade ago, while simultaneously delivering a powerful story of corruption that is likely to stay with you long after seeing it.