BLACK AND BLUE (2019) – Review
Are you ready for another “shoot-’em-up”, action-packed police thriller? Since you’re making a beeline to the multiplex I can safely assume the answer is “Yes”. Whoa now, hold up a bit. Since we’re now well past Labor Day, it’s probably not another slice of pure escapist destruction. Oh yes, this has a “message”, so you’ll have to eat your beets before dessert. This story is set in a world that’s (here comes an old ad line) “ripped from today’s headlines” (if everyone is still devouring newsprint). It’s hitting all the “hot buttons”, especially the three distinctions of race, class, and gender. That’s mainly because of the film’s main focus is an African-American rookie policewoman who faces near-impossible challenges because she’s both BLACK AND BLUE.
Her struggles begin bright and early on the streets of modern-day New Orleans. Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is getting in her morning jog before work when she’s stopped and ruffed up by two patrolling police officers, Finally checking her ID, they’re stunned to discover that she’s “blue”, a fellow officer. Things improve a bit as she heads down to her precinct station, dons her uniform (she’s so new there that her locker name is scribbled on a bit of masking tape) including bullet-proof vest and body camera (looks a bit like a garage door opener), and begins her shift with jovial vet cop Kevin (Reid Scott). With stories of police corruption filling the TV screens, things are tense on the mean streets where Alicia grew up. While Kev runs into the main supermarket for a coffee, she has a fairly unpleasant reunion with two old classmates: the store morning manager Milo (Tyrese Gibson) and Missy (Nafessa Williams). After a cruise past Alicia’s childhood home, a run-down, low-income housing complex (“We never come down here unless an officer is in trouble”), they return to HQ to clock out for the night. Ah, but the CO needs someone to work a double. Since Kevin has a planned “date night” with the missus, Alicia steps in. She meets her “night partner” Deacon (James Moses Black) as he shoots the breeze with a team of narcotics officers led by Malone (Frank Grillo). Later, Deacon gets a call (on his cell phone) as the two grab some breakfast. They drive down to an empty old powerhouse. He tells her to stay in the vehicle as he enters the building, but when shots ring out Alicia follows. She arrives in time to see Deacon, Malone, and his partner murder a young unarmed drug dealer. She’s spotted by them and takes several bullets herself, falling through the rotting floor. Luckily her vest takes the brunt, though she’s been grazed just above the waist. And she’s lost her gun. The dirty cops have to stop her and destroy that “body cam” before its video can be downloaded on to the station’s main computer system. With every cop looking for her, Alicia must try to get help and shelter from the area’s hostile residents. And when Malone convinces the area’s drug kingpin Darius (Mike Colter) that she pulled the trigger on his kid brother, all eyes are on the hunt for her. Can she possibly make back to “home base’ and clear her name?
Big kudos to the producers for showcasing the considerable acting talents of Harris, Oscar-nominated for MOONLIGHT, but best known as the current Ms. Moneypenny in the last couple of 007 entries. She brings real integrity and dignity to Officer West who’s deftly walking a tightrope, keeping her balance while being buffeted by her allegiance to her job and her loyalty to her old home. When the “stuff” starts hitting the fan, Harris conveys West’s initial shock and panic, but we see through her eyes how the “wheels are turning” as she plans to evade and survive. Her casting was a smart choice, one that should hopefully open up more leading roles. Another inspired choice is Gibson, who’s been stuck in the FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise as the one-note Roman, part of a tiresome bickering team with Ludacris. In the role of Milo he finally gets to really “flex” his acting chops as a man nearly as conflicted as West. We see his inner turmoil as he tries to temper his anger with the authorities while being convinced that by aiding West, he may start to change things. Nice to see Colter on the big screen again, who’s quite scary as the vengeful gold-grilled growling force of nature. Now that he’s shown his range by playing a “baddie’ could he switch sides perhaps for a “Luke Cage” feature (gonna’ miss that Netflix show)? Scott does a nice riff an is affable average nice guy persona (straight from the end of his “Veep” gig), but his Kevin has his own secrets and must make a choice and take a stand. Speaking of riffs, Grillo’s in another villain role, not far removed from “Crossbones” of the Marvel movies, and is a believable threat, but he may want to go for characters with more depth to avoid the typecasting “bug”.
Director Deon (THE INTRUDER) Taylor makes great use of the “Big Easy” locations and ratchets up the suspense, jumping between drone overhead shots, close-ups, and the body cam “POV”. The pacing could use some “tightening” in the opening act as certain encounters (at the market and the nightclub) go on too long. And a trim would help some “foreshadowing” moments (the downloading tech, the apartment fortress), while some characters seem to heal with great speed (West hurdles over countless fences with oozing blood from her torso, while a leg wound leaves a slight limp with another character). Perhaps the script from Peter A. Dowling needed another pass or two since the third act involves several big leaps of logic along with many convenient circumstances (he’s wearing glasses so he must be a “hacker”). That and a villain’s social soliloquy during the final battle was hammering in the “message” too much. I was amused by the “Odin” logo on the body cams (the big McGuffin of the plot). Was this a nod to the Norse “all-father ” god’s “all-seeing” omnipresent eye (something for Mythology geeks)? So despite the great pairing of Harris and Gibson, the movie takes several cliched turns into “B” movie territory. BLACK AND BLUE tackles some relevant themes, but never really leaves a mark.
2 Out of 4