Directed by Dennis Hopper.
Starring Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Don Cheadle, Damon Wayans, Randy Brooks, Grand L. Bush and Tony Todd.
An experienced cop and his rookie partner try to control gang violence on the streets of L.A.
One was an experienced cop who had seen all there was to see on the streets. The other was young, obnoxious and eager for the fight. Together they were… not your typical buddy cop movie. Okay, Dennis Hopper’s Colors isn’t a buddy cop movie at all but you could probably cut together a fan edit that makes it look like one. It would only look like one, though, and not play out like one because Colors isn’t about the cops – played here by Robert Duvall (The Godfather) and Sean Penn (The Gunman) – patrolling the streets of gangland L.A. and their relationship with each other, although that does play into things at various points, but is about how the police force as a whole appear to be powerless against the rising gang wars that are claiming lives across the city.
Coming three years before John Singleton’s sentimental look at life in South Central L.A. with Boyz n the Hood, Colors doesn’t whitewash the violence by having a central character desperate to get out of the neighbourhood. Instead it throws you straight into the heart of the gangs ruling the streets and doesn’t make them sympathetic but it does offer a glimpse into why their members do what they do without preaching or pointing the finger. Director Dennis Hopper keeps the film grounded firmly in the reality that such a subject matter deserves, not giving in to genre clichés or any of the tricks or style choices of the time, giving the film an ageless quality that is only contradicted by the old-school hip hop soundtrack, which includes Ice-T’s classic title song.
That reality that Hopper brings is highlighted by the fact that Colors doesn’t actually have a plot, at least not in a we-start-here-and-end-up-here kind of way. It’s more of a snapshot of a moment in time and what events happen within that time frame. As they play out it’s obvious that time is circular and things aren’t going to change, despite the best efforts of the cops and their often conflicting methods. Duvall and Penn are absolutely rock solid as Hodges and McGavin respectively, both actors obviously having researched their roles and Penn especially displaying supreme confidence with his physical gestures and general demeanor. Their on-screen relationship feels totally natural and any scene they are not in is all the worse for it, making the investment in most of the other characters suffer as nobody else in the film is as clearly defined; it even gets confusing knowing who is who in the gangs and what side many people are on.
But despite a little confusion and lapses in pace here and there, Colors is about as genuine a depiction of life in inner city gangs and the conflicts with the police as you’re likely to see in mainstream cinema and for that it should be celebrated. However, if it’s a film with an arc and a positive message you’re after then you may be better of with one of the caring, sharing ’90s movies that depict similar scenarios, albeit with a little more of a narrative and the sense of a journey.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★