ST. LOUIS — There's something timelessly electric about an action thriller involving cops, both dirty and clean-driven. Throw it together in a restricted timeline, heighten the stakes, and watch the day fade to black. The badge being reinterpreted as something sinister, uncivil, and deadly against a noble soul trying to keep the peace.
Most of the cinematic offerings may dial up the action well enough, but they miss out on the true thrilling content as well as the message. They forget to say something with their movie, spread the word about how dark and oily the world has become, even with the ones who should be protecting and serving. Occasionally, a director, along with his cast and crew, get it right.
Deon Taylor's "Black and Blue" looks like one of those rare occasions where you will be entertained and a thought should be provoked in the process of the thrills and kinetic action. The film follows a rookie cop who witnesses a pair of cops murdering a drug dealer during a private meeting.
Here's the thing. It wasn't just Alicia West's (Naomie Harris) eyes that witnessed Frank Grillo and Beau Knapp's officers execute somebody; her bodycam footage picked it up as well. This event sets off a series of events, with West running for her life not only from Grillo and Knapp's shady figures, but from other corrupt badges as well. Outside of her veteran partner (James Moses Black), all she can turn to is Milo "Mouse" Jackson (Tyrese Gibson).
This isn't a nuts and bolts action-adventure movie, folks. Taylor, working from a script by Peter A. Dowling, is trying to paint a fair yet firm picture of our society right now. How the line between black and blue can bleed into one another, and how the heart of a cop, young or old, can turn black before they retire the uniform. The fact that West is a female and African American cop sparks another hot button issue. You can't deny the impact there with the casting and the story framed around it. How criminals, and dirty cops, may look at a female officer as someone they can bend to their will.
There's a scene in the trailer where a police officer tries to lure West into his police cruiser, which she picks up on and escapes. It's a vivid sequence.
When you watch the trailer a couple more times, other timely elements are in play. As West and her partner ride around, a young teen on a bicycle is recording them on his phone. Far too often these days, officers are suspect to not only their body cam footage but every single cell phone as well. Something to hold them accountable.
All of these themes and morals play like flavorful spices and herbs, adding to the main course of Taylor's film, which centers around one wild night with cops using criminal means-Grillo enlists Mike Cotler's crime lord as West recruits Milo-to fight each other so the reveal of something terrible doesn't hit the press. Imagine fighting your own brothers and sisters in blue instead of the enemy?!
Eventually, an entire neighborhood of killers is set on West, who must survive the night at all costs.
The cast looks perfectly suited for bold mayhem. Harris was fierce in Michael Mann's "Miami Vice" remake as well as the Academy Award-winning "Moonlight", an underrated David Ayer film called "Street Kings", and playing Moneypenny in "Spectre". She easily slips into the vulnerable yet tough West, who is patrolling a city she grew up in.
I don't know about you, but I prefer my Grillo steak medium rare and bloody these days, hopefully with a bad streak. 2019 has featured the veteran man of action slipping into different antagonist disguises in films such as Donnybrook and Into the Ashes. Grillo is as authentic as they come, with a mischievous smile and overwhelming sense of physicality.
Grillo played a dirty cop once upon a time in Gavin O'Connor's "Pride and Glory". I see a shade of Eddie Carbone in this broken bad cop. In an interview with BlackFilm, Grillo compared his character to Denzel Washington's Alonzo Harris in "Training Day". A well-known and connected street player who sees the streets turn on him.
Knapp was very impressive as a cop in similar murky waters in Netflix's underrated series, "Seven Seconds", while any Marvel fan will recognize Luke Cage when Cotler comes on screen. Moses' face is stuffed with conviction, and Gibson is extremely capable in these kinds of roles.
The secret ingredient here is the cinematography from none other than Dante Spinotti, who shot the legendary bank heist sequence in Mann's "Heat", which happens to be my favorite film of all time. He also framed the lens on Mann's "Last of The Mohicans", "The Insider", "Public Enemies", and "L.A. Confidential". The action sequences have a startling effect to them.
Put it all together and you have an action thriller that is self-aware. Something you will find entertaining and take something away from to chew on during the ride home. If a dirty cops saga can make you think afterward without beating you over the head with poetic justice and preaching, it's done a special job.
Taylor grew up around different levels of police brutality and mistrust, as did some of the other cast members. He's taking what he knows and painting his own canvas, one that hopefully will reach people on many levels.
Sony Pictures is releasing Black and Blue on Oct. 25, wide across the country. With all the Oscar weight being swung around and the big names floating through cineplexes, don't forget about Deon Taylor's film.
It's my pick for the sleeper hit of the fall movie season.