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Laramie Movie Scope: Dark Blue

By the numbers police corruption movie

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 22, 2003 -- "Dark Blue" is a standard drama about police corruption like "Q and A" or "Cop Land." It falls far short of the classics of this sub-genre: "Training Day," "Serpico," "Witness," or "L.A. Confidential." Two of the problems that "Dark Blue" has is that it lacks the top-flight acting talent of those classic films and the plot isn't very compelling, despite the fact that "Dark Blue," like "L.A. Confidential," is based on a James Ellroy story.

Kurt Russell ("Escape from L.A.") stars as a veteran, third-generation L.A. cop, Sgt. Eldon Perry Jr. who has been known to tamper with evidence and make false statements to get a conviction. He justifies this by convincing himself he is getting bad people off the street, even if they aren't guilty of the specific crimes they are being convicted of. Perry is protected by a good old boy network, headed by Jack Van Meter (played by Brendan Gleeson of "Gangs of New York") who gives Perry his marching orders, who covers his back and who has just gotten him a promotion to lieutenant. Perry is also protected by a system that turns a blind eye to police brutality, bad shootings and bad convictions. Perry's young partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman of "Duets") is a rookie who is already in debt to Perry for an arrest gone bad.

Perry and Keough are assigned to investigate a robbery of a grocery store in which several people are killed. The trail leads them to a couple of police informants, but they are ordered to leave the informants alone and go after some other suspects that had nothing to do with the killings. This action leads both Perry and Keough to a crisis of conscience. At the same time, Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames of "Bringing Out the Dead") becomes suspicious of a shooting that Perry and Keough were involved in and he begins to dig into the case. Political fractures open up in the department. As if that weren't enough, the story is set around the time of the Rodney King riots.

There are some problems with the story. The characters do not behave in a consistent manner and some of the actions taken by the characters don't make much sense. There is a romance between Keough and another officer. The woman becomes very bewildered by Keough's behavior. The audience is no less bewildered by it. The story also has no mystery to it. It is very predictable. Maybe this is what makes the drama seem less hard-edged than it needed to be. Ving Rhames and Brendan Gleeson are both fine actors, but they are given little to do here. Kurt Russell is adequate in the lead role, but this role really needed someone capable of the emotional fireworks of, say, Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino to really stoke up the drama of some of these scenes. Scott Speedman also seems a bit lightweight for his role opposite Russell. What was really needed was someone with some real firepower, like Collin Ferrell, Edward Norton, or Barry Pepper. Look at the best films of this genre, they had stars like Denzell Washington, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Danny Glover and Harrison Ford. The actors in Dark Blue, aside from Rhames and Gleeson (who are really just supporting characters), don't measure up. The movie also lacks the style and high production values of the best films of this genre. It is a good idea for a movie, but is badly in need of a rewrite and a new cast to make it work. This film rates a C.

For more information on this film, including, trailer, production notes, Kurt Russell as Sgt. Eldon Perry Jr., Scott Speedman as Bobby Keough, and Ving Rhames as Deputy Chief Arthur Holland, click on this link to the official home page of Dark Blue.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)