A new cop drama toes the line between reality and fiction. See if our movie critic says it’s worth the watch.
WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:
KEY CAST MEMBERS: Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Reid Scott, Beau Knapp, James Moses Black and Nafessa Williams
DIRECTOR(S): Deon Taylor
THE BACK STORY: Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is many things. She’s a veteran with two tours in the Middle East. She’s a woman with no family now that her mother passed away earlier this year. And she’s a native of one of the most notorious wards that was done no favors by Hurricane Katrina.
Now, she’s a rookie member of the New Orleans Police Dept. working with her partner Jennings (Reid Scott) learning the beat. So, when Jennings begs her to take her place on a night shift, Alicia decides to take his place so he can go enjoy date night with his wife.
Brown (James Moses Black), the veteran officer she’s with, isn’t the nicest fellow in the world, but he’s still a cop like Alicia so she respects him because, after all, they both back the badge. So, despite being told to stay in the car, once she hears gunshots, she’s going inside to make sure Brown isn’t in trouble.
Then she finds out Brown – along with narcotics officers Malone (Frank Grillo) and his partner (Beau Knapp) – are the ones she needs to be afraid of.
Aided only by an unlikely alliance with a local super market employee, Jackson “Mouse” Milo (Tyrese Gibson), Alicia is on the run to upload the footage on her body cam to put away the bad guys. But given that she’s now got (1) crooked cops after her; (2) local drug dealer Darius (Mike Colter) and his entire crew after her and (3) the ‘hood thinking she is the one behind a crime she didn’t commit, she’s going to be forced to make a choice: Is she more black than she is “blue” – and will it ultimately matter if no one believes her story.
THE REVIEW: On its surface, Black and Blue is a very easy movie to dismiss as it has a somewhat familiar premise (cop sees bad cops do bad stuff) and the inherent issues (African-Americans trust of the police, African-Americans in the line of police work – see HBO’s new take on Watchmen for more – etc.) within. What keeps Black and Blue from being another run-of-the-mill Training Day knockoff is how the cast and crew approach and deliver the story.
Now, to be honest, there are plenty of things that will either enhance or detract from your Black and Blue viewing experiences, hence a need to explain them here. So, if you:
- Are African-American;
- See the film with an audience also full of minority members relating to the characters on screen in a prime example of groupthink; and
- Are familiar, either through the news or sadly, personal experience, with the types of police officers and “‘hood rules” present in the film, it will enhance your viewing experience.
On the flip side, if you:
- Are not African-American/a minority;
- Dismiss many of the stories in the news like this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or – I think you get the point; and
- Don’t believe life imitates art and vice-versa, well … Black and Blue will likely just come off as another crime caper that ventures a little bit too far into the ridiculous (there’s really only one or two incidents of that) to be anything significant.
That notwithstanding, Black and Blue works on a basic level as Harris’ makes her character intriguing despite her extreme naivety (the audience is almost ahead of her the entire movie) and the tense nature director Deon Taylor builds throughout the film. Given that Taylor’s most three recent feature lengths were the awful The Intruder (2019), the forgotten Traffik (2018) and the absolutely atrocious Meet the Blacks (2016), it seems he’s finally found a way to take his knowledge of African-American cultures and put them into a thriller that actually makes sense.
While the film doesn’t feature anyone who’s a standout name on their own (Harris is a solid actress but be honest, you probably couldn’t pick her out of a lineup by name if you don’t follow her career), Taylor uses his players well. Grillo is a quintessential character actor in the role of either a criminal or cop (check his IMDB for proof), Brown channels Bill Duke extremely well to the point you’ll find yourself surprised it’s NOT him and Gibson wisely follows Harris’ lead to move things along well. Mike Colter even does a nice job of showing he can play the opposite of his better known Luke Cage alter ego as the drug dealer heavy Darius. Of course, that’s what an actor is supposed to do, but it’s done with convincing fashion. It’s a trope, but it’s one that works. The story turns are easy to see coming, but again, thanks to the dedication of the cast, they don’t feel as stale as they otherwise would.
But to go back to the earlier checklists and why they are relevant to your enjoyment of Black and Blue, let me explain it like this: If you have experienced harassment by the individuals meant to protect and serve you, you will feel a connection to the characters in the film that are not law enforcement officials. If you are a minority trying to toe the thin blue line, you will understand all of the internal and external strife Harris’ character does being turned away by both officers and her own community. And even if you haven’t experienced it, if you have watched recent developments in America you will understand the impact of these things on both Harris’ character and others in the film. But, if you do not and worse yet, care not to know, Black and Blue will ultimately be a work of fiction and nothing more.
The reality is though all good works of fiction are stemmed in some form of truth – and Black and Blue has far too much reality around it to not make the fictional parts seem real, or, in the case for many, hope they could be, too.