Badge of Dishonor
Kurt Russell will be tough to beat during the next Oscar race. In Dark Blue, heís at the top of his game as a 1992 Los Angeles police detective whoís "only following orders" as he struggles to keep the bad guys from taking over the city. Need a cop to arrest the wrong man because heís scum anyway? Eldon (Russell) is your man. Want someone to fake evidence against an evildoer? Call on Eldon. Hereís a guy who comes from a long line of cops. His grandfather and father were both L.A. lawmen, and heís been bred and trained to be, as he says, "a gunfighter."
Eldonís orders come from a man he respects, his late fatherís former partner (Brendan Gleeson) whoís now his commanding officer and who wouldnít put him in jeopardy. Or would he? Another connection between the two men is Eldonís new partner (Stephen Speedman), his supervisorís nephew, a naÔve young man who needs schooling in Eldonís ruthless "protect and serve" techniques.
I know what youíre thinking. Havenít we seen the innocent-young-cop-being-trained-by-corrupt-older-partner story before? Yes, and most recently in Training Day and Narc. But Dark Blue is set amid the urban tension resulting from Rodney Kingís beating by white policemen and their subsequent acquittal. To me, it evokes a more socially-relevant feel and emerges as a police thriller causing one to think about the issues raised rather than the violence depicted. Do the ends justify the means? Does a policeman have the right to break the law in order to save lives?
And thereís also Russellís extraordinary performance (even better than his revenge-seeking husband in Breakdown) as a man forced ultimately to face the consequences of his actions. Piercing blue eyes, a face starting to get a bit craggy, hair you want to run your fingers through Ė all receive detailed camera attention here. But itís the range of emotions Russell projects that impressed me so much. He made me believe not only in Eldonís bravado but also in his bitterness, his rage, his sadness, his guilt, and even his compassion. ("I slip a few dollars into her mailbox each month," he says about the wife of an innocent victim he killed.)
Too bad things are so black and white in Dark Blue. The only good cops are the Deputy Chief (Ving Rhames) and his assistant (Michael Michele), both black. Filmmakers probably felt this would be an antidote to the poisonous racist attitudes displayed by other characters and might make up for the number of black rioters shown in one sequence. But thatís the only element of the film that didnít work for me.
Directed by Ron Shelton (Tin Cup) and written by Training Dayís David Ayers from a story by L.A. Confidentialís James Ellroy, Dark Blue comes with an excellent pedigree. Its filmmakers have delivered a movie filled with suspense, realistic action scenes, fine performances and provocative moral issues. Donít miss it.
(Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and rated "R" for violence, language, and brief sexuality.)