Directed by Ron Shelton
If you’ve seen other reviews of Dark Blue you have probably seen the word ‘formula’ pop up more than a few times. It’s true; this movie follows a well-used formula but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The reason there are formulas is because they work. We respond to them. We tend to cringe when we hear the word formula because the same ones tend to get used over and over and, more often than not, badly.
Fortunately, with Dark Blue the formula is used well. It uses it to create an engaging film within whose formulaic parameters it can work out its theme and develop its characters. There is almost a Shakespearean quality to how Dark Blue works. While it is a ‘cop movie’ formula, the larger formula is tragedy and, in true tragic fashion, its engine is the character flaw in its principle character, Eldon Perry (played by Kurt Russell).
Again, in tragic fashion, despite the disorder and corruption of the wider police department landscape, within Perry’s world there is order, or at least its illusion (for Perry). As the story progresses, that order slowly falls apart – or more precisely, is slowly revealed to Perry as he sees the consequences of his choices. In the end, he has to face them all (nicely shown in a closing shot of him looking out over Los Angeles as it burns with the Rodney King riots).
This kind of movie relies on two things to work: a well-written script with effective, natural dialogue and a bang-on performance in the lead role. Dark Blue has both.
While formulaic, the script has literate, rhythmic scenes to carry it along. It develops smoothly, inexorably and with heightening irony. It even has a wonderfully written, lengthy soliloquy in its final act.
It also has a wonderful performance from Kurt Russell. While his performance in the movie Tombstone was brilliant, here we get an even better one – probably because there is even more to work with here. Although Russell never verbally articulates what he is struggling with, its all there in his expression and actions, and the false note that sounds in all his character’s bravado.
And what is his character’s flaw? It resides in his desire for acceptance in what he perceives as the fraternity of police. He has compromised himself morally throughout his life as a police officer in order to be accepted by what, for him, are the patriarchal figures in his life, his father and uncle, both cops themselves, both of whom have chosen a police officer’s life for the power that comes with the badge and the gun rather than for the code of ‘to serve and protect.’
Russell’s character is essentially a little boy who has never gotten past the need to get patriarchal approval. To get that approval, he compromises and loses everything of value, including himself. There is a wonderful scene in the movie where he is suddenly scolded by his mentor, an uncle (Brendan Gleeson). Russell’s expression is perfect: we see his body sag, face collapse … he appears to get smaller and smaller as he sits and takes the scolding, despite knowing he is right.
Dark Blue is a very good movie with the odd weak moment but with so many strong elements these don’t seem to matter. It’s a great example of what can be done with a formula when creative minds get a hold of it.