Dark Blue

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Ron Shelton

DARK BLUE is another epic of vice and mayhem from the ingenious, if twisted, mind of James Ellroy, author of LA Confidential and American Tabloid. Director Ron Shelton (TIN CUP, WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP) and screenwriter David Ayer (TRAINING DAY) do a fine job, but the mesmerising, if nihilistic, vision of a debauched society with it’s finger pressed firmly on the self-destruct button is all Ellroy’s who wrote the story that this film is based on.

This film, like most Ellroy novels and film adaptations has a wild, sprawling complex beast of a plot, full of dramatic twists and turns. It would take me many hundreds of words to explain it so I am going to have to summarise it to an obscene extent. Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell), a morally-questionable detective, albeit a veteran one, and his wet-behind-the-ears partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) are assigned to a prolific multiple homicide. The only trouble is that Perry and Keough soon discover that the murders are linked to their head-of-department Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson).

Van Meter, meanwhile, already has his hands full, as he, along with his Special Investigations Squad (SIS), is being investigated by Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), the only person brave enough (or foolish enough?) to stand up to the powerful Van Meter and the SIS. All this, and much more besides, is happening in the foreground, while boiling away in the aptly chosen background are the infamous events following the real-life beating of black motorist Rodney King: the trial of the four white officers, and the savage rioting which takes place after their acquittal.

This is rousing stuff, mainly because Shelton develops plot and character so carefully, and thus creates a sordid and detailed landscape, which I hope is not true to life, yet seems totally credible and convincing. I think Shelton manages to create this effect because he gives his characters plenty of room to breath; rapid pop video style editing and short pithy scenes are thankfully forsaken for more meaty and lengthy exchanges, which have a hint of improvisation about them. Having said this, the film does contain the occasional edge-of-the-seat set piece, in which the cops and robbers get their hands dirty. The most notable of these is a remarkable car chase near the end, which sees a sozzled Perry manoeuvring desperately through LA’s mean streets, which are teeming with hundreds of black rioters hungry for white blood.

This is, for the most part, refreshingly un-PC, and yet, disappointingly, the film ends up making one too many concessions to Hollywood convention, especially in the over the top theatrical ending which leaves all the loose ends tied up far too neatly. It’s a sad cop-out when the rest of the film is so realistic and unpredictable.

There are further faults, regarding character motivation, which dampened my viewing pleasure somewhat, yet this remains a film I am very excited about. I’ve spent many sleepless nights hypnotised by Ellroy’s tales of breathtakingly depraved and desperate characters caught up in equally depraved and desperate situations. I found DARK BLUE a decent translation of this style to the big screen.

5 out of 6 stars