Film Review – Black and Blue (Second Take)
Black and Blue
It used to be an insult to accuse a movie of being like a TV show. In earlier eras film was supposed to be elevated so high above television that saying something on the big screen felt like it was derivative enough to be only suitable for the small screen was one of the sharpest barbs you could throw. That of course has changed in recent years. Television has gotten so much better that it isn’t denigrating to compare a movie to it. We have had an embarrassment of riches at home in this modern golden age. So keep that in mind when the complaint is made that the new film Black and Blue, while brushing up the occasionally interesting ideas regarding race relations, for the most part is delivered with all of the thudding obviousness of what TV used to be.
Naomie Harris stars as a new rookie cop in New Orleans. She has been on the job just a few weeks. It’s quickly told that she is a war vet who wanted to do some good public service when she got back. She is teamed up with a slightly questionable but generally good guy partner at the beginning played by Veep’s Reid Scott. When her partner is called upon at the end of their shift to work a second late shift that same day, she steps in at the last minute so he can keep his date that evening. She is assigned to ride along with a cranky experienced older cop for the night shift. Towards the end of their time together, he gets called to meet with an informant and tells her to wait in the car. Of course she doesn’t listen, follows him in after hearing a gunshot, and ends up witnessing a group of crooked police in an abandoned warehouse illegally execute some local drug dealers. Capturing the whole thing on her body camera, they attempt to kill her as well. The rest of the film has her on the run from her own police force as she tries to get the body cam evidence back to authorities to prove their guilt.
The premise isn’t a half bad idea for a police action movie. And the entire affair is infused with racial politics. The white cops on the force routinely display their bias towards the mostly black neighborhood they patrol. Even the opening scene of the movie has Harris’ character out for a jog being rousted by a pair of racist patrolmen. So seeing what is ostensibly an action movie at least acknowledging race is nice to see.
However, everything about how this story is told is so riddled with clichés and narrative that holds the audience’s hand that it’s frustrating. For instance, the two tough guy narcotics cops that are the main villains in the film are named Smitty and Malone. Even those names seem to be ripped from a screenwriting 101 seminar on creating cop characters. Not to mention casting Frank Grillo as Malone is another one of those old TV-esque tip offs. Though by no means a bad actor, Grillo is one of those often typecast actors who always plays the heavy. It’s like watching a Law and Order episode knowing who did it by recognizing whatever character actor is being questioned. Also, each plot point or supposed twist is telegraphed so heavily the watcher is well ahead of the characters on screen. For instance, during her initial patrol, they drive by a “dangerous” housing project. Her partner states that they never go in there and the cops don’t respond to calls there unless another cop is in trouble. They might as well have put a big blinking sign over the scene stating that we are going to revisit those projects later in the movie. It might as well be named “Plot Point Apartments”. Probably the most irritatingly obvious element of the film is the score. Every moment is overly punctuated with ominous music or emotional beats with sweet sounds. This is a bad example of the score telling you how you should feel.
It’s too bad because the actors are doing good work here. Tyrese Gibson is empathetic as Mouse, the guy from the neighborhood who ends up helping her out. Mike Colter as an intimidating drug lord is always a welcome sight. He can be both charming and scary. Most importantly, Naomie Harris fully commits to her lead action role here. She is invested in the emotion and paranoia of the story. And it’s cool to see this kind of genre movie lead by a strong female character for a change. She can kick butt as well as actually think through tough situations. Harris also effectively displays how this nightmare scenario takes a toll on her. If only the onscreen talent had a better movie to back it up.
The goal of this film is to be an action picture with a social conscience about race relations coupled with a strong sense of place. They do make a point of showing for sure this is set in New Orleans. However, I couldn’t stop comparing this to the much superior movie Widows that came out last year. Granted, that movie was about women who set out to be criminals instead of cops. But that movie artfully used the city of Chicago as a character in the film. It also featured strong women, but the writing and direction was so much more skillful that it showed a dark thriller can still be great film as well. Black and Blue isn’t an outright bad movie as much as it is a mediocre one. The title is too on the nose and so is the film.