Film Length: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1), Standard (4:3)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish - Stereo Surround; French – Stereo Surround
I know this one has been out for a while, but I don't have anything that has not been released that I can post a review on yet However, I should have a review of a major upcoming "special edition" release up pretty soon, so keep checking the MGM section!
Dark Blue, set in Los Angeles, circa 1992, is a grim, disturbing tale of police corruption involving a number of detectives working for the Special Investigations Squadron (SIS) of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). At this period in time, it has been one year since the infamous beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers, and only a few days remain before the almost as infamous acquittal of the officers being tried in connection with the incident. As you can imagine, tensions between peoples of different races ran high at the time, and tensions between the urban populace and members of the LAPD were even higher. Having resided in or near Los Angeles all of my life, I can certainly attest to the fact that it was an ugly, trying time for the city and its residents.
As Dark Blue begins, we are introduced to veteran Detective Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell), and his inexperienced new partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), who are working a robbery/homicide case. While conducting their investigation, the duo uncovers leads that suggest a link between this brutal crime and others of a similar nature. Subsequently, Eldon and Bobby pair up with the aforementioned SIS in an attempt to bring those responsible to justice. As they continue tracking leads, Perry, who is known for his ability to “solve” cases regardless of the legality of his methods, attempts to teach the ins-and-outs of intimidation and shake-downs to his younger colleague, a concept most recently addressed in the superior film Training Day. Bobby doesn’t want to rock the boat, so he plays along until he guns down an unarmed man that was only supposed to be arrested.
After this tragic incident, Keough realizes the tactics he and Perry have been using are both illegal and immoral (duh!), so he pays a visit to Deputy Police Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), who is already harboring concerns about the SIS unit’s questionable behavior and aggressive tactics. Holland, however, has an agenda of his own, and while he is intent on cleaning up the SIS, he is also well aware of the personal and political benefits that he might derive from this action. Essentially, he plans to become the first African-American Police Chief of the City of Los Angeles by getting crooked cops like Perry off the streets and restoring the citizens’ trust, a sort of win-win scenario for both the City and himself.
In the meantime, the head of the SIS, Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), who orchestrated the robbery committed at the beginning of the film, begins plotting to have Perry taken out before his own indiscretions are discovered. Further complicating things, Perry has become suspicious of Van Meter’s intentions, and is thus faced with a difficult choice of coming clean and paying for his own crimes or continuing to deviate from his role as a public servant, which may cost him his life. Just as the conflicts between Perry, Van Meter, and Holland escalate, riots break out in Los Angeles, and the streets become dangerous ground for everyone, especially police officers known on the street as thugs.
Ron Shelton does a fair job of building and sustaining the intensity during the latter stages of the film, but there are several things that undermine his overall effort. First of all, although Dark Blue is set against the backdrop of the L.A. riots, these historically significant events do not serve to advance the story. As far as I am concerned, this is a major lapse in judgment. An event of this importance should not be treated as an afterthought, and building it to be a larger part of the story could have helped illustrate how the execution of “street justice” by rogue cops grinds on a community over time.
Quite frankly, this is an already tired genre, and although a good enough story can make a particular film stand out amongst similar efforts, this screenplay proves incapable of doing do. The inadequate character development just does not lead to any sort of interest in, or compassion for, most of these characters, particularly Deputy Chief Holland, who is barely in the film. Because of how thinly Holland’s character is drawn, the tension between him and Perry that should have been a big part of the film never rises to the appropriate level, which really hurts the movie. The story is certainly not awful, but it is not very compelling either. More importantly, this type of film has been done better many times before. In fact, just about the only thing keeping this movie from being less than mediocre is the strong performances from Kurt Russell and Ving Rhames.
Kurt Russell is a great actor, and can consistently be counted on to turn in a memorable performance, but I think his appearance in such fare as Escape From L.A., Tango and Cash and Captain Ron hurts the overall perception of his abilities. In Dark Blue, however, Russell is fantastic as the archetype bad cop who justifies his inappropriate way of getting things done in his own mind, battles personal demons, and a tries to salvage a collapsing marriage. Ving Rhames is also excellent, embodying most of the good characteristics of a police officer, but as I mentioned earlier, he has far too little screen time to create palpable tension between his character and Detective Perry. The dialogue is also somewhat “true” to the vernacular of the streets, although I can’t help but feel that it was overdone on purpose to make this film seem grittier and darker than it really is.
In short, Dark Blue falters because of under-whelming character development and a story that is never more than mildly engaging. Further, this film was released too soon after Training Day to not seem like a redundancy, although this may be the result of David Ayer writing the screenplay for both films. Unfortunately, however, this movie simply lacks the intrigue present in Training Day, not to mention the stellar performance by Denzel Washington. The climax, in particular, seemed rather contrived, more suitable for a made-for-television drama than a big-budget studio release. Overall, there is just not enough meat on this film’s bones to make it really enjoyable, despite Kurt Russell’s best performance in a long time, which is the high point in this rather disappointing affair.
So, How Does It Look?
Dark Blue was in multiplexes earlier this year, and as a recent release I was anticipating a good transfer. I am happy to report that MGM did not disappoint in this regard. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), the image is quite sharp, and colors are saturated, with very little bleed between them. The deep, consistent black level and excellent contrast also led to well above-average shadow delineation and fine detail.
Occasionally, some minor edge enhancement was visible, but this did not prove to be anything more than a minor distraction. Overall, this is a very crisp, clean transfer that should satisfy all but the most ardent videophiles. Nicely done!
NOTE: The standard (4:3) version of the film is also available on the other side of this flipper disc. In addition, the bonus features are on each side of the disc.
What Is That Noise?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel surround mix for Dark Blue is satisfactory, but not overly impressive. Due to a wide front soundstage, dialogue is clearly discernable in most scenes, but the score is mixed a touch too loud in some spots, which was a mild annoyance. The low end is also a bit lacking in definition and smoothness, but there is ample low frequency information thanks to the gunplay and riot sequences.
The aggressive surround use during the film’s action sequences did a good job of creating a very large, busy soundstage, and the soundtrack and score also utilize the rear channels a little bit more than most mixes do. However, these scenes are infrequent and there is not too much music in the film, so the rear channels were a little under-utilized for my taste.
The feature length commentary by Director Ron Shelton is fairly interesting, but not terribly entertaining. Shelton does provide a lot of information pertinent to the development of this project, and a lot detail on the behind-the-scenes happenings. He also discusses the significant contributions made to the final product by each actor, but he tends to ramble a bit as well. If you are really interested in this film’s story, or are a fan of Ron Shelton’s, you may find it worthwhile, so check it out. If not, you may want to skip it.
**“Internal Affairs” Featurettes:
This nearly twenty-minute featurette describes the making of the film via interviews and behind-the-scenes information. The cast and crew all participate, providing a wealth of insight into the creative process that resulted in Dark Blue. To be sure, it is the type of information found in typical promotional pieces, but the enthusiasm of the participants and inclusion of interesting information (not just fluff) make it the best extra on the disc, hands down.
---“By the Book”
This approximately seven minute piece outlines the production design and set design and decoration for Dark Blue, providing some detail on how the desired look for the film was achieved. In addition, an illustration of how several scenes went from concept to screen is featured.
This brief but entertaining featurette explains where the story comes from, namely a work entitled Plague Season by author James Ellroy. It also sheds some light on how the tactics, weapons use, and other details in the film were researched to make them as accurate as possible.
There is a badge on the special features menu that can be highlighted. If you press enter while it is highlighted, a brief featurette entitled “The Fire Next Time” will be your reward. Sometimes it pays to randomly press the arrow keys on your remote while navigating through the menus on a DVD!
The theatrical trailer for Dark Blue is featured. In addition, MGM has included trailers for Platoon, Rocky, and Die Another Day, as well as a very short promotional piece for MGM Home Video.
The usual collection of behind-the-scenes color production photos is offered. Nothing incredibly noteworthy or out of the ordinary, but an enjoyable extra nonetheless.
The Score Card (five point scale)
The Last Word
Dark Blue is a bland entry into the police corruption genre that comes across as being too derivative of Copland and Training Day to be considered entertaining in its own right. For fans of this genre, I suspect it might make a decent rental, but it just did not deliver the goods to keep me interested. This is disappointing, because I am a huge fan of Kurt Russell’s, and one of his best efforts is wasted on a story that is just not that compelling.
As far as its DVD treatment, MGM has delivered a very good package for this less than memorable film. In particular, Dark Blue has a great transfer, a boisterous 5.1 channel audio track, and a decent platter of extras. It is just too bad the movie doesn’t live up to the presentation.
June 24th, 2003