Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The new cop drama Black and Blue has a lot that it wants to say. As its probably-too-on-the-nose-title suggests, the movie tackles the strained relationship between the African-American community and the police force. The movie certainly has its heart in the right place and wants to get a message across, but that message is undercut by the film’s final act.
The film stars Naomie Harris as Alicia West, a rookie officer on the New Orleans police force. Alicia grew up in New Orleans, but left to join the military when she was only a teenager. After two tours in Afghanistan, she returns to her hometown to find that tensions have only continued to rise since she left. One night, three weeks into the job, she picks up an extra shift, partnering with a veteran on the force. After being told to stay in the car while he meets with his informant, she is alerted by gunshots and races into the building to investigate. In doing so, she serendipitously witnesses the murder of a civilian by a couple of undercover officers, recording the crime on her body camera in the process. She is then discovered and shot herself, which sends her tumbling to the floor below.
Saved by her bulletproof vest, Officer West manages to escape the building into the surrounding neighborhood, only to face a new problem. Despite the fact that Alicia is an African-American woman, she is refused assistance and refuge by the residents of the neighboring black community due to her being a member of the police force and therefore, the enemy. It is only after she breaks into a local grocery and desperately pleads with the man working there to help her that she is offered any kind of assistance. Now she must find a way to get to the station so that she can upload her body camera footage of the crime, but since the criminals are themselves cops, she doesn’t know whom she can trust. To make matters worse, the victim turns out to be the nephew of a local drug lord and the corrupt cops have told him that she was the one who murdered him. So in addition to the corrupt cops, the entire criminal underground is hunting her.
The movie wastes no time letting us know what kind of story it is trying to tell. The first thing we hear on the soundtrack is an airline pilot saying “welcome to America” as the flight begins its descent. The movie’s protagonist is then pulled over by the cops while she is jogging and aggressively treated because she “matched the description” of someone they were looking for. This movie is looking to reveal a truth about what it means to be in America today, especially for those whose skin is not white. But it is not just a matter of skin color. While sitting at a diner with her new partner, Alicia is told that no matter what her skin color is, she is “blue” now, and must side with her fellow officers above all else.
The first hour or so of the movie works fairly well as a gritty crime drama, looking to put a microscope to the often deadly divide between the black and blue communities. Naomi Harris is a solid lead and we are locked in with her for her journey from the start. She is given good support by Tyrese Gibson as the one person who finally agrees to help her and Frank Grillo is almost a little too believable as the corrupt cop. But the movie falters in its final act, when it attempts to turn into an action thriller, pulling out all the clichés that can go with the genre.
As the movie falls into the trappings of a typical action movie in its final act, the serious tone and desired message of the movie get undercut. The limits of believability get stretched so far that they inspired chuckles throughout the audience with which I screened the film, an audience which, in theory, should have been on the edge of their seats. The dialogue doesn’t help, devolving into cheap slogans like “be the change” that can be a little groan-inducing.
Black and Blue deserves credit for trying to say something more than a typical cop thriller might strive for and it really starts out looking like it might achieve its goal; but by failing to maintain that level of weight throughout its entire running time, it comes up a little short.
Black and Blue opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.