In 1992, the trial of the officers accused of beating Rodney King was drawing to a close, with public resentment breathing heavily down the necks of all LAPD. officers. Investigating a routine robbery/homicide, veteran detective Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) and rookie Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman, TV's "Felicity"), begin to peel the layers off the case, finding a core that points directly to the corruption that has overtaken the force. Under strict orders from their commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson, "Gangs of New York") to ignore the evidence, and struggling with Eldon's already tricky moral canvas, the trail of lies and deceit leads to a confrontation set against the backdrop of the South Central race riots.
"Dark Blue" has a unique and interesting setting for its basic corruption drama to play against, but I was never convinced that director Ron Shelton was receiving the best dramatic mileage for his effort. You can clearly see that Shelton conceives "Dark Blue" as a sprawling, "L.A. Confidential"-style police drama -- even working from a story by "Confidential" author James Elroy - but as a director, Shelton is never reliable (his filmography ranges from the sheer genius of "Bull Durham," to the appalling "Cobb" and "Play It To The Bone"). I can't believe I'm writing this, but Shelton (with screenwriter David Ayer) works in too many character developments into "Dark Blue," sacrificing the overall story in the process. To the filmmakers' credit, you do learn quite a bit about the central characters, be it Eldon's alcoholism and failed marriage, or Bobby's romance with a fellow officer, and how they communicate with each other in this world. But these moments hold back the natural drive of the film, especially in the eruptive climax.
This climax, which has Eldon hunting for the killers during the initial outbreak of the riots, is simply spectacular to witness. Shelton, after trying so diligently with the rest of the film to stage tension and conflict, finds it here in the violent streets of L.A. They are very reminiscent of the battle scenes in "Black Hawk Down," which also featured the many finally turning the tables on the few. The "Dark Blue" third act is a stunner, and lives up to the promise the rest of the film had.
What "Dark Blue" does provide nicely is a venue for Kurt Russell's best acting in years. Always a reliable talent, Russell is a lousy judge of quality, wasting his time recently in dreck like "Soldier" and "3000 Miles to Graceland." Russell's character is a meaty one, mixing racism, sexism and police honor in one lethal cocktail, and never quite finding the expected redemption a lesser film would require. The mixture allows Russell to explore his impressive range, and it's thrilling to see this fine actor breathe again.
With a cop tale as decent as this (it has close shades to Ayer's script for "Training Day"), there is too little focus on the winding tale of corruption. Admirable as they may be, the character examinations only hamper the energy of the piece, leaving "Dark Blue" with that nagging feeling of wanting more bang for the buck.
Filmfodder Grade: C+