Dark Blue
Grade: B+
Year: 2003
Director: Ron Shelton
Writer: James Ellroy
Genre: Drama/Action
Rated: R

What a shame that the best movie released this week debuted at #9 on the top 10 charts. Ron Shelton's "Dark Blue" isn't the best of its kind, but it succeeds in capturing the horror of the 1992 L.A. riots, amongst other topics that make up the beef of this surprisingly thick film.

"Dark Blue" takes place just a few days before the Rodney King verdict was announced back in April of 1992. Corruption ran rampant through the Los Angeles Police Department, and the officers were divided due to their differentiating opinions of the King trial.

The story isn't new; many cop movies are about corruption, but "Dark Blue" integrates it with the LA Riots. The riots aren't just a backdrop to the plot, they're a stage for the characters to perform on. Without being exploited, the riots eventually become a part of the movie and a substantial obstacle to deal with.

The film opens with Sgt. Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) attending a shooting board hearing. His new-young partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), is under fire for using deadly force on a suspect in a recent case. He is eventually cleared, but one of the board members isn't convinced. Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) is quietly building a case against Perry, claiming he was the one who fired the gun, not Keough.

The LAPD has never had a good reputation for being an honest unit, and during this time the corruption is at an all-time high. Holland is out to cleanup the severely tainted police force of Los Angeles.

Perry and Keough are tough on the street, comparable to the cops in "Narc," although this veteran-rookie relationship is more like the cops in "Training Day." They work under the authority of Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), the top cop whose evilness gets passed down to the street cops through his orders.

Here is the controversial part of the movie. Two thugs brutally murder four people in a convenient store. When Van Meter learns it was his two snitches who work for him, he orders Perry and Keough to go after a couple of sex offenders who are just as bad if not worse than the convenient store killers.

Movies like "Dark Blue" are those you can debate over forever. Is it right to go after other felons even if they didn't commit the crime you intended to arrest them for? What if they've done worse; is it justified then?

Faced with this new task, Perry will give Keough the chance to prove he's ready to be among the elite street-cops of Los Angeles. I won't tell you if they follow through on their orders, but I will say that the story gets more controversial, and a lot dirtier as it progresses.

All eyes are on Perry as he is the most interesting character. Some will argue he's a racist. He uses derogatory terms when talking about blacks, as he refers to the black and white criminals who shot up the store as the "salt and pepper" team. He is also openly rooting for the four cops on trial for beating Rodney King, hoping for an acquittal.

Kurt Russell gives one of his best performances ever, and I credit the smart dialogue that doesn't scream, "I'm Hollywood dialogue that only gets said by actors who've read it off the script." But his acting is just as sharp as David Ayer's screenplay. He delivers with charisma and force. Scott Speedman also carries his weight being a newcomer to movies, and as the partner of Russell's character.

"Dark Blue" manages to stay somewhat original, but it still suffers from the clichés that seem to be in every cop movie. Perry's wife (Lolita Davidovich) doesn't like seeing her husband come home the way he does after long days. She works in the prison system and claims to know a deteriorating officer when she sees one. There is one of these wives in every cop movie. Also, somewhere in the movie is an alcohol problem that plagues most movie cops. Keough is dating a young black woman (Michael Michelle); little do they both know the secrets they're hiding from each other.

Deputy Chief Arthur Holland must decide if he will stay to fight corruption and bring Perry down, or take an attractive position in Cleveland where he'd become the police chief. His decision is announced around the same time that Perry is offered a promotion, and around the same time the King verdict is announced.

As I said, "Dark Blue" is the best film released this week. With only "Cradle 2 the Grave" opening wide next weekend, you should have plenty of time to see this underrated flick that I fear will be swallowed up by the more popular inferiors.

I know leave you with a powerful quote that foreshadows every issue, problem and conflict to come in the movie. "If those cops go free, this city is going to burn."

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