FILM REVIEW – BLACK AND BLUE. With Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Mike Colter, Frank Grillo, Reid Scott. Written by Peter A. Dowling. Directed by Deon Taylor. Rated R for violence and language. 108 minutes.
BLACK AND BLUE isn’t likely to make anyone’s ten best list, yet this sturdy genre entry is a movie that says more about modern times than most of the year’s releases. The reason for that is that the formulaic nature of the plot and characters lets the filmmakers use that formula to address other matters. While providing plenty of action and suspense, it’s what this film says about race and policing that makes it stand out.
Naomie Harris plays Alicia West, a veteran who has come back to her old New Orleans neighborhood as a cop. She joined the military to escape a life of poverty and crime, and now she wants to give back. To the people she left behind, though, she’s changed sides. Looking at the housing projects on her beat, her partner (Reid Scott) tells her they don’t even go there until another cop is in trouble. She finds that she’s shunned even by people who knew her.
The story takes off when she agrees to take an extra shift and witnesses a corrupt cop (Frank Grillo) murder a drug dealer in cold blood. Worse, the dealer was working for him and was killed so he wouldn’t talk. West not only sees what went down – her body camera recorded it all. The victim was the nephew of the local drug kingpin (Mike Colter), who is told West was the shooter. Now she’s on the run with her “brothers in blue” and the gangbangers out to get her. She gets help from Mouse (Tyrese Gibson), a supermarket manager who, initially, doesn’t want to get involved.
West is no innocent, she is an idealist, believing in her job and that there are good people in the community who deserve protection. What she sees is not only the corruption, but the fear and loathing the residents have for the police, and the contempt and arrogance the police have for them. There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but West can’t always be sure who can be trusted which is, in fact, the problem that everyone else around her has as well.
That’s what makes the film compelling. When the news is filled with stories of not only the deaths of black citizens at the hands of police, but two different people killed in their own homes, the tensions between citizens of color and the people ostensibly protecting them are real and palpable. Harris and Gibson play the film’s heroes not as symbolic figures in an editorial cartoon, but as two people in over their heads, improvising on the run.
In taking on a story that might seem familiar, “Black and Blue” manages to reflect our world while providing the requisite thrills.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.