a critiQal film review Dark Blue (2003)

Plot: It's a bad time to be an L.A. cop in the 5 days while the jury deliberates on the fate of the four police officers in the Rodney King beating. For Detective Perry (Russell), however, it's business as usual: bring down bad guys - and make sure they stay down. When aspiring Asst. Chief of Police Holland (Rhames) starts turning on the heat though, there's no telling what's going to get caught in the fire.

700 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 30s)
  • ...the film's hurried scene-switching leaves the viewer dragging along behind, almost completely wasting Kurt's surprisingly good performance.

I had seen previews for Dark Blue back when it first hit theaters, and was only somewhat interested. After all, it seemed they had spelled out the movie in the preview, so what else was there to see?

Because of that, I never got around to seeing it until a friend of ours let us borrow a couple of DVDs. I decided to give Dark Blue a shot. After all, it’d been awhile since I’d seen Kurt Russell do much of anything, and maybe there were a few surprises in store that the trailer hadn’t already pointed out.

The characters all seem to be well acted, almost a given in Ving Rhames’ case, but a bit of surprise for Kurt Russell. After all, the king of 80’s cult films (Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Escape from New York (1981)) hasn’t been doing much of late, so he might have lost a little. Plus, his movies were almost always good in spite of his acting, not because of it.

His over-the-top style always gave an exaggeration to his character that actually ended up helping his movies achieve fame, almost accidentally. But his over-the-top style would have been completely out of place here, and he definitely gives subtlety a decent shot.

You can see him struggling to keep the levels toned down, and this struggle actually improves his performance in Dark Blue, since he’s supposed to be struggling with heavy issues anyway. It’s this struggle that brings the best acting out of him here, and he should be proud of what he’s able to accomplish.

True, he’s not at the level of the big-namers of recent years, but he’s at least giving it a shot, which is more than can be said for some other actors (you listening, Elijah Wood and Tobey Maguire? Learn from your elders…).

The plot is intense, thought-provoking, intelligent…and way too rushed in Dark Blue. This could have turned into a hard-hitting drama that would be remembered for years, but instead the viewer is rushed from scene to scene and is only able to begin grasping the impact the film is trying to make when it ends. If they had done more background info, or maybe showed more interaction between the main characters before everything starts going down, the film could have interested the viewer more and been a truly remarkable piece of filming.

Instead, the viewer is thrown into a mess of confusion, and must try to decipher what’s going on…in effect, playing catch-up throughout most of the film. This hurried feel to Dark Blue leaves much to be desired, and unfortunately leaves the viewer with the feeling that they just witnessed something that could have been great…but failed.

The special effects are pretty minimal, with no really memorable camera angles or scenes, with the exception of one. Near the end, Det. Perry is driving through the beginnings of the L.A. riot, and a haze from the fires has covered everything in sight. It’s almost an accidental metaphor for the viewer’s state of mind while watching the film – if we could just see a bit clearer, we may discover the decent movie lying within.

It’s almost as if the filmmakers put that in there on purpose just to have us remember that scene after the movie, rather than attempting to flesh out their storyline a bit more. After all, a memorable scene will be talked about as much as a good movie, right? Unfortunately, that scene starts to fade from memory just like the haze finally does – and we realize the great movie we were searching for in the haze just isn’t there.

It’s unfortunate that Kurt Russell’s great improvement in performance has to come during Dark Blue. With it’s hurried scene-switching leaving the viewer dragging along behind, the film wastes his performance, as well as not giving Ving Rhames enough lines to really impart his great acting abilities, and turns a memorable film into something quite different.

It’s not a surprise you might not have heard about this film – it’s not worth remembering. Dark Blue ends up being just that – dark, sad, hazy…and indistinguishable from most of the other cop movies out there.

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