‘Black and Blue’ shoots to thrill
At first glance, Black and Blue appears to be a standard-issue urban shoot-’em-up, but screenwriter Peter A. Dowling and director Deon Taylor incorporate some topicality to the proceedings that bear a bit more examination that it might seemingly warrant.
Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is a rookie cop in New Orleans. She grew up there, then joined the Army and saw action in Afghanistan. Now she’s back home and trying to do her part for the community, but as she is advised early on, the badge makes her an outsider. It’s not about black. It’s not about white. It’s about blue, and she’s blue. She may be there to help, but some residents don’t want her help. They don’t trust the police. They don’t want her, or her blue brethren, around – at all.
On what seems a routine patrol, Alicia fulfills the cinematic hero’s dilemma of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as she witnesses a corrupt narcotics detective (lean, mean Frank Grillo) and other officers killing three drug dealers in cold blood. When they see Alicia, they try to kill her, too – but she barely manages to escape, and she’s recorded the crime on her body camera.
Thus begins an intense, if not altogether unpredictable, odyssey for Alicia. Not only is she accused of committing the murders, but the corrupt cops are crafty enough to pin the blame on her, assuming that the resident coterie of neighborhood gangsters, including neighborhood drug czar Darius (Mike Colter), whose nephew was one of the victims, will get her if they don’t.
The resourceful Alicia finds an ally – albeit an initially reluctant one – in local shopkeeper Milo “Mouse” Jackson (Tyrese Gibson). Having played his share of fast-talking tough-guy roles in the Fast and the Furious and Transformers franchises, this is a more subdued, reflective characterization for Gibson, and he pulls it off nicely. Mouse doesn’t want to be a hero. He doesn’t even want to be involved, but circumstances – and his innate sense of justice – compel him to heroism.
The flip side is Grillo’s Terry Malloy, and it’s interesting to note that the character’s name is the same as the blue-collar hero played by Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954). Malloy is as much a product of the urban environment as Alicia, but serving and protecting the populace is not high on his agenda. If the criminals want to kill each other, fine, he’ll even do his part to encourage that. Malloy is not a likable character, but he is a believable one.
Heavy on foreshadowing and blunt in symbolism, Black and Blue exploits its topicality in ways that manage not to be insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. This is clearly an action film designed to entertain, but Dowling’s screenplay also has some nuance and depth. Not all the white characters are bad, not all the black characters are good – and, in some instances, they undergo a measure of moral redemption.
The mean streets of New Orleans have rarely looked meaner, courtesy ace cinematographer Dante Spinotti, and the actors bring conviction to what could have been stock roles. In addition to Harris, Gibson, Grillo and Colter, all of whom acquit themselves well, there’s nice work from Reid Scott, Beau Knapp and James Moses Black in support.
The third act tends to go on a bit, but Black and Blue not only delivers the action it promises but a little bit extra – and that little bit extra goes a long way toward making this, if not a film of importance, then a film that brushes against some interesting topics that confront today’s society.