Dark Blue

Dark Blue (15)

There is a line in Dark Blue when corrupt, murderous police chief Brendan Gleeson tells one of his gun-toting puppets “I am a performer of unpleasant tasks.” Never was a truer word said, and Gleeson’s words aptly sum up this superior, hard-edged and nasty thriller in which Kurt Russell gives a revelatory performance as a rabid police dog who has broken his leash.

Set during the tense period of the 1991 LAPD/Rodney King trial, Dark Blue focuses on the secret war between bent cops who get results by fair means or foul and the moral crusaders who seek to bring down bad, bad men.

The anti-hero at the heart of the tale is Eldon Perry (Russell, magnificent), a cop from the wrong side of the streets. He’s been on the job too long, and now it’s hard for him to do the job without breaking every rule in the book. Murder, extortion, bribery and corruption are part of his daily routine, so setting up and killing two lowlifes for a robbery they didn’t commit is easy – except he didn’t bank on his young partner (Scott Speedman) baulking at the task…

Reminiscent of Training Day, which led to an Oscar for Denzel Washington, Dark Blue should, by rights, do the same for Kurt Russell. Certainly it gives him the opportunity to deliver the performance of his career as a rotten cop whose life is rapidly spiralling out of control.

Russell is a delicious, racist reptile – scything through a vicious, desperate underworld in which cops look after their own and lying is a state of mind. His various nemeses are Ving Rhames as an upstanding senior cop and partner Bobby Keough (Speedman), a good kid tainted by his proximity to Perry who begins to see the world through new eyes and hates himself for it.

Perry has lost his soul, while Keough is fighting to keep his. It is Bobby who becomes the weak link in the conspiracy and who eventually brings the whole house of cards fluttering to the floor.

Dark Blue is a superb study in moral turpitude. Simplistically done – this is a plain tale of good versus evil, white versus black with the Rodney King experience hanging over the picture like a cloud of dread – it nevertheless offers a microscopic examination of what turns good men to bad and how rules and laws are twisted beyond recognition by lawmen who have become blind to the badness of their daily lives.

Russell exists within a world of his own creation, buried so deep that he barely knows how to behave normally any more. Bobby is his unconscious redemption – a clean-living, untainted cop who still knows the difference between right and wrong. As a balancing act the interplay between Russell and Speedman is perfect, each bringing out the best in the other.

Similarly Gleeson, as police chief Jack Van Meter, is the controller of all that goes down on LA’s mean streets, and he uses Perry as the instrument of his wrath. This is no cardboard cutout villain, but an intricately constructed puppet master who uses the badge of the law to shield his actions.

In the hands of Ron (Bull Durham) Shelton Dark Blue becomes a damning indictment of the LAPD – a much ridiculed and denigrated force – though one has to consider whether the collapse of Van Meter’s empire, in which genuine villains are made to pay for their sins, is really to be cheered.

Star rating: *****

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