Black and Blue Review: Flawed but fairly action-packed film with an interesting perspective
While he might have disappointed me this year with The Intruder, director Deon Taylor teams up with writer Peter A. Dowling to create a much more interesting and action-packed story with Black and Blue.
With more discussions on police brutality and slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” flooding social media over the last couple of years, there’s a clear divide that’s left one group of people forced to perform a day-to-day balancing act – black cops. This is the perspective that Black and Blue brings and it’s actually quite interesting to see unfold within Alicia (Naomi Harris), a rookie whose sense of justice and not playing sides doesn’t sit well with anyone around her – especially when most of them are corrupt. Things are only made more troubling for her when she records footage of a corrupt officer (Frank Grillo) killing informants. With both the cops tailing her for the body cam and her finding no help from the black community around her, Alicia must do everything in her power, with help from a local shop owner (Tyrese Gibson), to end the corruption and do what’s right.
Alicia’s story is actually pretty compelling at first with her facing some strong challenges that aren’t seen in other films. Like I said, she’s no longer seen as black by those around her when she’s in uniform and no one is willing to help her. Even if she’s bleeding or clearly in trouble, they’re too afraid to get involved or help because they don’t want the police anywhere near them. Not to mention, there’s no one in blue that Alicia can trust as Grillo’s Malone has every cop he has influence on ready to take her down on-sight. It’s actually a pretty thrilling chase that Alicia is thrown into and it’s something that will definitely keep viewers hooked.
Even the performances from Harris and Gibson are strong. Harris does a great job bringing out the fears and paranoia that Alicia is feeling being in this new situation while maintaining her desire to stop the corruption around her. Gibson also gives a surprisingly strong performance that is very different from anything he’s done in other movies. He delivers a very vulnerable and realistic performance as Mouse that embodies how the dominating presence of the police has beaten him down. Honestly, Harris and Gibson are best parts of Black and Blue and they make Alicia and Mouse the kind of characters you get behind and constantly root for.
However, even for it’s intriguing premise and strong leading characters, Black and Blue misses the mark in capitalizing on this premise and falls back on familiar trappings. While Alicia and Mouse are elevating the film to be a solid discussion piece on this unique perspective, everyone else is playing their characters like they are in summer action movie. Pretty much every cop, outside of Alicia, is so aggressive, evil, and unlikable that it’s almost cartoony. This is especially true when Darius (Mike Colter), a local gang leader is introduced as the film almost can’t decide whether or not it wants to take itself seriously. No one necessarily gives bad performances, but every time they took over the focus of the film, it almost feels as if you’re watching a different movie.
Speaking of focus, Taylor has a hard time utilizing the camera to keep focus as the background and editing can make it really hard to focus on what’s happening. A lot of times throughout the film, Taylor will emphasize the graffiti in the shot, and it can be very distracting. There’s never really a point to it that’s easy to figure out and it draws your attention away for no reason. During the more action-heavy sequences, the editing can be a little choppy and fast-cut, making for a bit of nauseating experience. Most people might not notice this, to be fair, but it’s something that constantly took me out of the moment.
Also, while I think Alicia is a great character, there’s some flaws that are tough to overlook and moments that I questioned her thinking. For instance, she quickly realizes that no one is going to help her because they recognize her as a cop, yet she never thinks to carry her body cam and take off her uniform. There were also times where I felt that she puts herself into danger unnecessarily, like not listening to Mouse when he tells her to run and just showing up to Darius’ hideout with, what seemed to be, very little planning. Not to mention, I didn’t feel like Alicia was fully wrestling with this choice of being black or blue as she’s pretty much against the cops from the start. For all of the things that make Alicia such a strong leading character, there’s very little complexity that’s explored with her and the premise. I also think the film gives Alicia a bland ending and the wrap up is just generic and unimpactful.
For what its worth, even for the missed opportunities and inability to capitalize on a relevant issue, Taylor still manages to create an action-packed thrill ride with some compelling thoughts. It’s definitely his best film thus far and hopefully he can look back at Black and Blue and take away both the strengths and weaknesses of it to create more interesting films.