Directed By Deon Taylor
Starring – Naomie Harris, Mike Colter, Tyrese Gibson
The Plot – An action thriller about a rookie cop (Harris) who inadvertently captures the murder of a young drug dealer on her body cam. After realizing that the murder was committed by corrupt cops, she teams up with the one person from her community who is willing to help her (Gibson) as she tries to escape both the criminals out for revenge and the police who are desperate to destroy the incriminating footage.
Rated R for violence and adult language
– Against type performances. This is an eye-opening showcase for everyone involved, not because of the dramatic depth of their deliveries, but rather the unique characters they portray, that gives us something outside of the box of expectations. For Harris, it’s the chance to play an action lead, and it’s one she takes very seriously. Not only does her physical performance offer a satisfying equal to the emotional registry that is firing on all cylinders for the actress as expected, but the jaded moral line that her character toes as being an African American AND a police officer keeps her constantly feeling in the middle of a tug-of-war between two sides who she loves very much. In addition to Harris, Colter, the man known for playing Luke Cage on Netflix, gets to portray a seedy gang leader, Gibson gets a darker shade of personality from the light-hearted goon we’re used to in the Fast and Furious franchise, and Frank Grillo serves as the film’s central antagonist. It was satisfying to see them all play their respectively diverse roles, and if nothing else offers a chance to establish the complexity of their range as character actors.
– Social stigma. As you may have expected, the film has a lot to say between the conflict of police and black citizens, and even despite the sometimes heavy handed nature of its depictions, it does offer a revealing scope towards both sides that may be a tool used to better understand them. There are good and bad people on both sides of the line, and often because of their sworn allegiance to what they claim, conflict ensues. Taylor seems persistent on his message of communication and coherence, two things often misconstrued in pre-conceived prejudice that both sides are guilty of. Because of this, there are very few more important or socially conscious films that you will see this year, making “Black & Blue” the rare exception that deconstructs both sides of the conflict for us to absorb.
– Lens originality. Taylor incorporates police body cameras, as well as police cruiser cameras to paint the action and conflict from an entirely unorthodox angle of film storytelling. What this does for the presentation of the film is cover the mayhem from an angle so unnaturally prominent that it not only adds to the intensity of several chase scenes throughout the film, but also presents us with easily the most candid side of depiction that stands as the gimmick of truth and clarity for the film. As to where the camera work in a film can be used as a blinder to expel what is later revealed in plot-twisting detail, this eye-level approach, like its real life intention, gives us the complete picture, establishing it as the single most important character in the film, for the way it will clear the innocent. Even though this film feels like it was made a decade late in terms of its plot holes, the use of contemporary gadgets to the integrity of the cinematic design gives it a professional level of approach that, surprisingly, more cop dramas haven’t attempted.
– Atmospheric. If nothing else, Taylor’s day-turning-to-night thriller is one that articulately captures the anxiety and paranoia that is conjured up from Harris’ character feeling more alone than ever in her fight for justice. Part of it is the brilliant setting of New Orleans, a city riddled in its own tragedies and racial injustices, which in personality brings forth a very dangerous and vengeful side to its opposition. There is simply no safety zone, and very few instances of trusting characters who she can turn to, and this isolates her as even more of a minority in the established environment than her African American heritage ever could. The unique perplexity of her standing in the direct middle between two feuding sides supplants her with enough belief to bestow upon either side, opening her up to be a victim of a double-cross time-and-time-again, and thus fleshing out her vulnerability in a way that ratchets this tension to satisfying levels for the pacing.
– Tight action. There’s nothing exceptionally special about the film’s action sequences, which are spared for the most meaningful time to disperse amongst its audience. What I like about them is they maintain the intensity of their surroundings without choppy editing or shaking camera effects, choosing instead to maximize the amounts of bullets and hit detection, which brings forth a healthy amount of the red to splash at the screen. As for the chase sequences themselves, there’s some energetic shot compositions and long takes that breathe life into the believability of the actor or actress who is invested into the scene, as well as some a fine illustration of distance to better elaborate how far ahead the prey is of the pursuer. There’s nothing here that is truly memorable for its creativity, but it’s rather the consistency of its efforts that don’t dilute or convolute the focus of the screen, and allows what transpires to be the rolling snowball of momentum to indulge in the fast-moving high-stakes of the picture.
– Disbelief suspended. That is what you will need to keep your head in the game of this modern day setting, where cell phones and social media could easily play a part in proving this woman’s innocence. This more than anything alludes to the idea that this was a 90’s idea that didn’t get made until twenty years later, fleshing out a series of inconsistencies and enormous plot holes that solve the film’s conflict from ever becoming a matter of issue in the real world. Aside from this, police cameras themselves are hooked into the police station database, so if this were to ever happen, one call to headquarters for the victim officer would clear her of any of this, and store this film at best as a glorified period piece, that doesn’t hold up when told in a 2019 backdrop.
– Horrendous A.D.R. Sloppy production values can be seen mostly everywhere in this film, but the audio editing done in post-production for roughly 60% of this movie is done so obviously amateur that their inclusion often feels like an unseen character talking somewhere behind the camera. The problems are aplenty; audio that doesn’t line up with lip movements, audio that doesn’t coincide with mouth movements, sound mixing of audio a few levels above every other dialogue in the scene, despite the talking character never shouting in the least, and choppy placement so hollow that you could practically hear the clicks in its involvement. This is one of my favorite negatives to point out in a movie, but rarely is it ever as evident as it was in “Black & Blue”, offering no solidification that any effort was put into getting this film to the finish line.
– Fumbled twists. There are two of them in this movie, but none of them are ever directed in a way that gives them even an essence of jaw-dropping nature to the complexity of the screenplay. If done correctly, there’s a fine amount of exposition deposited on their character, but also clever camera tricks that document the big reveal in a way that we the audience feel the betrayal of the protagonist, but these scenes are produced in a way that made me feel like I should’ve already been in on the corruption. Considering these are arguably the most pivotal scenes to elaborate on, not only the corruption within the force, but also the evolution of characters on both sides that prove just how alone this woman truly is. It dropped the ball on giving me any chance to fully invest myself in the heat of its riveting social commentary, making this as forgettably bland of a screenplay as can be expected from anything by Deon Taylor.
– Backstory of Harris. This is strange because she’s our central protagonist, yet we learn so very little about her, except for these rare instances used in between these tense moments of speed, bullets, and betrayal, which are nothing more than an afterthought to the two subplots that are driving this movie. This lack of insight is a problem to me because it falls into one of my biggest problems with movies, where if I don’t care about the characters, it’s very difficult to care about anything else, and it doesn’t follow through on some interesting directions that are merely just speculation for the lack of attention given to them. One deals with Harris’ deceased mother, who is never mentioned or defined, other than these two scenes of Harris at her gravesite. The second is a conflict with who I’m guessing is either Harris’ sister or best friend from back in the day. It’s only briefly hinted at what happened between them, and is missing a tearful scene of regret to further illustrate why one of their lives didn’t turn out the way she expected.
– Uneven halves. The first half of this film is certainly much stronger than the back half of this movie, which falters frequently by settling for repetition quite often. The opening act of this movie sets the tone, the backdrop of New Orleans, and a dangerous disposition that puts this protagonist on the run from any and everyone she doesn’t trust. Unfortunately, as it progresses, the movie’s lack of visual flare, as well as its reliance on its message brings forth the air of melodramatic that hindered all of the moody intensity that the film had built for itself early on. It starts to feel very formulaic and full of familiar genre tropes that takes an adrenaline-fueled drama, and meanders it to an assembly line genre flick with a routine third act seen as much as three times already in this movie year alone.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+