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MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
From the writer of Training Day comes this "powerful (The New York Observer) tale about a veteran LAPD detective (Kurt Russell) who tutors a rookie cop in the realities of police intimidation and corruption in the days leading up to the LA riots.

Director:
Ron Shelton
Cast:
Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Michele, Lolita Davidovich
Writing Credits:
David Ayer, based on a story by James Ellroy

Tagline:
Sworn to protect / Sworn to serve / Sworn to secrecy
Box Office:
Budget $15 million.
Opening weekend $3.880 million on 2176 screens.
Domestic gross $9.059 million.
MPAA:
Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
Subtitles:
English, Spanish, French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 6/24/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Ron Shelton
• Three Featurettes
• Photo Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer


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Dark Blue (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 16, 2003)

Hollywood seems to love to produce movies about cops and their issues as well as other topical subjects. Because of that, it comes as a surprise that apparently no major motion picture has dealt with the riots that swept Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of the police who beat Rodney King. Perhaps it remains too much of a “hot button” issue, but it appears ripe for exploration.

Superficially, 2003’s Dark Blue seems to tackle the topic. However, the movie doesn’t really get into the events. The film opens with a quick display of what happened to King in the early hours of March 3, 1991, and then jumps ahead a year or so to the day on which the jury delivered its verdict. We see shots of agitated LAPD Detective Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) and then quickly jump back five days.

When that occurs, we watch two events intercut. Two thugs named Darryl Orchard (Kurupt) and Gary Sidwell (Dash Mihok) stage a violent robbery in a liquor store. They kill four people, wound another, and depart with a safe, though they ignore the cash register. In the meantime, we see a hearing for Perry’s junior partner, Detective Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). He apparently shot a suspect, so the panel needs to decide if he did this “in policy”. They agree that Keough acted acceptably, though Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames) offered a dissenting vote.

The movie shows the racist boys’ club in the LAPD and observes Perry’s aggressive and nasty behavior. His wife Sally (Lolita Davidovich) clearly seems unhappy, and given Perry’s racist and misogynistic attitudes, it’s not hard to figure out why. Eventually his boss Lieutenant Chief Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson) assigns Perry and Keough part of the liquor store killings case, though we clearly see an issue related to Van Meter’s involvement. From there the guys pursue the assignment and we watch as layers of corruption unfold, all set against the backdrop of the tension evident as LA waited for the Rodney King verdict.

Really, the whole Rodney King topic and the riots feel like something of a “MacGuffin”. Actually, I think the riots and tension exists in the film just in an artificial attempt to lend some topicality to the flick. Those issues have very little to do with the story proper. One can argue that the strain of the time contributes to the movie’s tone, but frankly, the whole King concept seems essentially irrelevant to the story.

For the most part, Blue told a fairly simple tale of corruption. The movie followed a predictable path. We knew that Perry would come to a crisis of conscience as the various levels of deceit amass, and the story holds little depth since we clearly know who did what. I suppose there might be some suspense about how he’ll react, but frankly, those events hold little tension; the flick follows such an easily anticipated plot that it never surprises us.

The one element of Blue that helps redeem it stems from Russell’s solid performance. It helps that Perry offers a very showy part; with his blatant biases and bigger than life personality, the detective enjoys a lot of opportunity for scenery chewing. Russell certainly gives Perry a grand attitude and dynamism. He comes across as a bit too broad at times, but he seems electric and exciting in the role, and he helps make an otherwise fairly ordinary movie seem more compelling.

Speedman does acceptably well as his partner, but unfortunately, he doesn’t get many opportunities to do much. At times, Speedman feels more like a plot device than a character. Still, that beats the token presence of Rhames as Holland. Despite a couple of feeble attempts to give the chief a third dimension, he exists just to put some pressure on our “hero”. Rhames acquits himself acceptably well, but the role seems underwritten and uninvolving.

With its predictable plot and easy moralizing, Dark Blue seems like something we’ve seen before, and seen done better. To be sure, the movie has its entertaining moments, and a fine turn from Kurt Russell in the lead helps allow it to become generally above average. However, most of it feels quite ordinary, and it doesn’t have anything new to say.


The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B- / Bonus B-

Dark Blue appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Other than a few moderate problems, the image generally seemed positive.

Edge enhancement created most of the picture’s distractions. Haloes appeared modest throughout the movie, but they showed up fairly consistently and created something of a nuisance. However, the edge enhancement didn’t seem to affect sharpness, as the movie always looked nicely crisp and detailed. I noticed none of the blurriness that often comes with DVDs that suffer from edge enhancement. Jagged edges and moiré effects seemed non-existent. Other than moderate graininess that stemmed from the film’s style and Super 35 photography, I noticed almost no source flaws. A couple of specks popped up but nothing else interfered with the presentation.

For the most part, Blue presented a fairly subdued palette dominated by the hue mentioned in its title. Some exteriors demonstrated richer, more saturated tones, but a lot of chilliness appeared throughout the movie. At times, the blues looked somewhat too heavy, but for the most part, the colors were accurate and appropriately depicted. Black levels came across as deep and dense, while shadows were appropriately heavy but not too thick. If the image lost the edge enhancement, it might have made it to “A” level, but as it stood, it received a “B”.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Dark Blue also demonstrated a few problems, but it generally appeared satisfying. The soundfield was fairly limited much of the time. The forward spectrum featured most of the audio, and music offered nice stereo imaging.

Effects tended toward general ambience and only occasionally really came to life. A few scenes seemed fairly disappointing in that regard; for example, the segment in the strip club featured a weak sense of atmosphere. However, other parts like a climactic chase used the soundfield well and nicely integrated the rear speakers. Surround usage mostly just supported the music and general effects, but they showed decent information at times. Localization appeared positive.

Audio quality appeared average. Speech usually came across as natural and distinct, but some edginess interfered at times. Music was lively and dynamic for the most part; bass response seemed erratic but usually sounded appropriately deep. The same went for the effects. These sounded accurate and clean, but they didn’t pack a terrific punch. Low-end material was decent but unexceptional. That phrase largely described the soundtrack of Dark Blue as a whole, for the mix worked acceptably well but never did much more than that.

The DVD’s supplements start with an audio commentary from director Ron Shelton. He offers a running, screen-specific piece. Shelton covers the basic topics. He mostly sticks with technical subjects such as locations, camerawork, and editing, but he also chats about the cast and some story points. While the commentary gets into the basic elements and seems generally useful, it never becomes anything more than that. Overall Shelton provides a pretty average track.

When we move to the Internal Affairs domain, we get three featurettes that can be viewed individually or together via the “Play All” option. “Code Blue” lasts 18 minutes and 15 seconds as it gives us a general examination of the film. “Code” and the other two programs use the standard combination of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. Here we get remarks from actors Kurt Russell, Michael Michelle, and Ving Rhames, producer Cotty Chubb, screenwriter David Ayer, Ron Shelton, director of photography Barry Peterson, and production designer Dennis Washington.

”Code” gives us notes about the original novel on which the film was based as well as its script. We get material about casting, the dangers of the LA locations, camerawork, visuals, and various design issues. “Code” seems generally interesting but superficial, as it provides some good material from the shoot but it doesn’t offer much depth.

“By the Book” runs seven minutes and 12 seconds as it focuses on the movie’s visual elements. We get notes from Shelton, art director Tom Taylor, production designer Washington, and costume designer Kathryn Morrison. We get more information about sets and locations as well as details of props and costumes. As with “Code”, “Book” comes across as quick and fairly shallow, though it gives us a few nice tidbits about some of these issues.

The best of the three featurettes, “Necessary Force” takes six minutes, 50 seconds and includes comments from Russell, Shelton, and technical advisor Bob Souza. The latter participant dominates the piece, as he covers factual elements of the production like gunhandling, cop work, the internal workings of the police department, procedures, and other bits. This helps provide a nice backdrop for the tale and seems consistently interesting.

The Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery includes 25 pictures. These mix publicity shots and behind the scenes images; none of them seem terribly memorable. Some ads complete the set. We get the film’s theatrical trailer as well as promos in the Other Great MGM Releases. There we find trailers for Platoon, Rocky, and Die Another Day plus a general clip called “MGM Means Great Movies”.

Were it not for a solid performance by its star, Dark Blue would seem essentially forgettable. Even with a fine turn from Kurt Russell, the movie can’t escape its clichés, and it remains pretty mediocre. The DVD features generally positive picture and sound, though both suffer from some minor problems. The supplements also seem decent but not particularly compelling. A generally average flick and DVD, Dark Blue might interest fans of the cop genre, but I can’t offer it much of a recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0909 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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