It’s not that Dark Blue is bad. It’s just not very good.
The Corruption Hierarchy
R for Violence, language, sexuality
Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames, and Brendan Gleeson play cops in the LAPD during the Rodney King era. Everyone in the department is either corrupt or susceptible to blackmail by corrupt cops.
The hierarchy of corruption starts with Chief Jack Van Meter (Gleeson), who allows his favorite snitches to get away with murder. Slightly less corrupt is Sergeant Perry (Russell), who isn’t averse to pinning a crime on someone who is not guilty, so long as they aren’t innocent.
Perry’s new partner is Bobby Keogh (Scott Speedman), a fresh-faced youngster, as yet uncorrupted, and skeptical of the ways of his seasoned partner. Finally, Arthur Holland (Rhames), is an honest cop who wants to expose corruption wherever he finds it, a man who announces his bid for Police Chief to a cheering church congregation.
Within this dirty system lies the film’s plot. Perry and Keogh are assigned to investigate a multiple murder committed at a small grocery. (The audience knows Van Meter’s snitches committed the murder.)
At its core, the film is a police procedural. We follow Perry and Keogh as they trace one lead to another.
Hanging over the movie like a Fate cloud is the imminent verdict of the officers who beat Rodney King. “This town’s gonna burn,” says Perry, if the verdict is not guilty.
Part of the Crowd
Cop dramas are a dime a dozen. To stand out from the crowd, a movie need something extraordinary. Narc was relentless and gritty. Training Day featured great performances and an anarchic police force.
Dark Blue’s gimmick might be that it’s set during the Rodney King era. Or maybe it’s the corruption within the force. Or maybe... maybe there isn’t anything to set it apart. The plot is pure formula, the criminals are all two-dimensional, and the cops are only slightly more well-rounded than the criminals.
In the hands of a Scorsese, Dark Blue would have had potential. People would do interesting, immoral things and we would simply watch. A more interesting film would have something more insightful to say than “corruption is bad.” Instead, the movie shows the visible hand of God/Screenwriter explaining things to us.
Perry’s partner Keogh is an audience surrogate, and his innocence reminds us that we are not like these people. Perhaps Dark Blue would have been better without Keogh’s character, letting the audience see the point of view of the characters who resort to corruption.
But sports movie director Ron Shelton (Tin Cup, Bull Durham) is no Scorsese. At one point, the audience laughed at the expository dialogue (written by David Ayer). After a tense standoff with one of the crooked cops, Rhames’ face is still rigid with tension, and his secretary informs him, “this is some dangerous shit.”
Score Two for Terence
Once again I find myself thinking that the best thing about a movie is its Terence Blanchard score. Just last month, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour made its most lasting impression through its music. Blanchard’s sweet sad tones evoke lonely endurance. Whether it’s Edward Norton’s last day before prison or Kurt Russell’s face looking out on a burning L.A., the pretty trumpet-and-symphony are just right.
Of course, in 25th Hour, Lee knew how to use the music. In Dark Blue, a hard, aggressive rap song starts the instant the credits roll, washing away the melancholy regret the last scene tried to evoke, spoiling the mood of the ending.
One in a Hundred
Almost nothing stands out in Dark Blue as being particularly bad, except for perhaps the dialogue. It looks like a hundred other cop dramas, all equally adequate. Maybe it’s even a little better than some for its portrayal of corruption, its sense of history, or its musical score.
But for most of us, “adequate” isn’t incentive to see a movie.