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Review: ‘Black and Blue’ is an exceptionally effective corrupt cop thriller

Naomie Harris as a New Orleans police officer in the movie “Black and Blue.”
Naomie Harris in “Black and Blue.”
(Alan Markfield / Sony / Screen Gems)

It seems like director Deon Taylor might be the only filmmaker actively keeping the mid-budget adult thriller alive in this age of extinction. Plus, he’s prolific: His topical corrupt cop drama “Black and Blue” is his second 2019 film, arriving just a few months after his surprisingly entertaining and campy home invasion horror thriller “The Intruder.”

Set in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the contained chase film follows a female police officer, Alicia West (Naomie Harris), who has captured an officer-involved shooting on her body camera. As she tries to make her way back to her precinct to upload the footage and enter it as evidence against the cabal of cops murdering their informants, Alicia has to dodge both the black folks in the neighborhood who are suspicious of her uniform, and the boys in blue who can’t be trusted. Think Walter Hill’s “The Warriors,” but with a lone woman trying to cross town while dodging gangsters and law enforcement.

Taylor’s film uses the current news moment to play with the idea of being watched, and to underscore the power of images in pursuit of truth and justice. It reminds us we live in a “pics or it didn’t happen” world, where video (whether body-cam or viral) has the power to condemn or exonerate. This is a point Taylor drives home with visual storytelling. As Alicia faces her foe Malone (Frank Grillo) during a climactic confrontation, smartphones capture the showdown. Taylor’s camera picks out images of graffiti eyes looming down like silent witnesses. It’s a brutally obvious metaphor, but Taylor makes the effort to show, not tell.

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Taylor’s work is broad melodrama; subtle, it is not. But he has a knack for efficiently executing a killer premise, and he works with excellent cinematographers. Daniel Pearl, who shot the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” lensed “The Intruder,” and Dante Spinotti, the legendary director of photography who shot Michael Mann’s “Heat,” is appropriately behind the camera for the cops and dealers tale that is “Black and Blue” (he previously worked with Taylor on 2018’s “Traffik”).

Both Grillo and Harris are powerful actors, and Taylor unleashes them in a way they not often are. Tyrese Gibson and Mike Colter, who play Alicia’s reluctant ally Mouse and a drug kingpin, respectively, feel miscast. Colter, who can’t hide the inherent decency he projects, would have excelled in Gibson’s role, while Gibson would have appropriately stunted as the flamboyant, sadistic gangster.

“Black and Blue” is big and broad. There is no stone unturned, no symbol unexploited, and the emotional tenor is at 11. It’s melodrama for sure, and there’s absolutely no chance of interpreting Taylor’s film differently than the way he intended, for better or for worse. Too late in the game, Peter A. Dowling’s script overreaches, trying to connect the corruption to disasters including Hurricane Katrina and federal neglect. They don’t quite pull that one off, but damn if the rest of this lean, mean thriller isn’t exceptionally effective.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘Black and Blue'
Rated: R, for violence and language

Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 25 in general release

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