Black and Blue Movie Review

Black and Blue Movie Review
Police Flawed

"Black and Blue," the new crime drama from director Deon Taylor ("The Intruder") is a gritty exploration of community loyalties, police corruption, and the competing influences of choice and identity - and a pretty entertaining thriller as well. Set in New Orleans, the film stars Naomie Harris ("Rampage") as Alicia West, a Gulf War veteran returning to her home city to join the police force. Three weeks into her gig, the rookie cop offers to cover an extra shift for her more seasoned partner and finds herself smack in the middle of a brutal police-involved murder that unfolds with dizzying suddenness. Her position as a witness thrusts Alicia into a high-stakes hide and seek match where shifting allegiances could mean respite or betrayal, and trusting the wrong person will have life or death consequences.

"Black and Blue" refuses to pull punches from its opening scenes. Alicia, garbed in a dark blue hoodie and out for a run in the city's tony Garden District, is stopped and harassed by a pair of cops following up on a call about a "suspicious character." Even belatedly realizing that she's a fellow officer doesn't do much to reset their air of contempt; she'll never really be one of them.  The various facets of Alicia's identity - female, black, cop, veteran, local - are constantly at odds as she and her partner Kevin (Reid Scott, "Venom") patrol the city's Lower 9th Ward and note the still-visible effects of Katrina's devastation and post-storm abandonment. During a stop at a local market Alicia recognizes former pal Missy (Nafessa Williams, "Burning Sands") and shopkeeper Milo, aka Mouse (Tyrese Gibson, "The Fate of the Furious") but their reactions, ranging from hesitation to open hostility,  make it clear that in their eyes her current role as a cop supersedes her ties to the old neighborhood.

When Alicia inadvertently witnesses the shocking point-blank execution of a drug dealer by crooked narcotics detective Malone (Frank Grillo, "Reprisal") and his partner (Beau Knapp, "Destroyer"), her world is upended in a split second. Soon she's on the run, trying desperately to get out of the neighborhood and back to the station with her story and the evidence captured on her police-issued body-cam. She must evade not only Malone and the fellow officers that he craftily turns against her but also drug kingpin Darius (Mike Colter, Netflix's Luke Cage), who thinks she has murdered his nephew and puts a bounty out on her via local word of mouth.

The tension is palpable and immediate as Alicia dodges down alleys and side streets, begs shelter from homeowners who fearfully push her away, and hides in crawlspaces to evade her own brothers in blue. Deon Taylor directs with a sure hand; his action sequences crackle with energy, and he maintains balance through quieter character-building scenes that anchor the story and provide just enough respite before the next adrenaline-driven burst. Mr. Taylor's work here benefits from a skillful and self-assured lead performance by Ms. Harris, a seasoned actress with a range of performances in blockbusters ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Skyfall") and Oscar contenders ("Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," "Moonlight") alike on her resume who's nonetheless just unfamiliar enough to audiences to retain a touch of ingénue freshness.

Equally strong is Tyrese Gibson as the stoic Mouse, whose entanglement in Alicia's predicament leads to his own painful clash with a few overeager cops. Mr. Gibson's well-modulated work conveys a realistic mix of the anger, humiliation, and fear that one expects would color such a moment of overt victimization. Also notable are Mr. Grillo's smug turn as Malone, the corrupt detective who's spent the post-Katrina years honing his personal justifications for bad behavior, and James Moses Black ("Cut Off") as Deacon, the older cop with a resigned, seen-it-all air.

Standing out against these performances - and not for the better - is Mike Colter as Darius, the colorful to the point of cliché drug dealer whose word is law on the down and out side of the city. Overplaying here is an odd misstep for Mr. Colter; he ably carried two seasons of Luke Cage, and he's terrific as the unflappable, deeply pensive priest on CBS's quirky breakout drama Evil. Mr. Taylor's otherwise effective direction isn't helping either, as he gives in to the temptation of dramatic entrances and slo-mo underscoring for many of Mr. Colter's scenes.

That aside, "Black and Blue" is somewhat heavy-handed with the political messaging, but it's also a film that's very much of its time and place. This is a view of The Big Easy that doesn't always make it to the screen - when was the last time you saw a film about New Orleans that didn't shoot a single frame in the French Quarter? - and Mr. Taylor makes skillful use of the city's less overexposed locales. The cinematography effectively conveys Alicia's sense of isolation - her precinct HQ is simultaneously close enough to see via downtown's high-rise buildings in the near distance, and frustratingly impossible for her to reach. This is also the sort of story that delights in tantalizingly setting up possible routes to safety and then methodically blocking them, forcing the increasingly desperate Alicia to exercise her wits, experience, and sheer determination as she fights to do the right thing. "Black and Blue" runs a little long - some judicious editing in the third act wouldn't have gone amiss - but it's energetic and entertaining, and Ms. Harris's Alicia is a runner worth rooting for.

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