Black and Blue, 2019.
Directed by Deon Taylor.
Starring Naomie Harris, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Reid Scott, Tyrese Gibson, and Nafessa Williams.
A rookie police officer in New Orleans has to balance her identity as a black woman with her role as a police officer when she witnesses other police officers committing murder.
The first 10 minutes or so of Black and Blue do something I did not think was possible for a Deon Taylor joint (director of such wonderful *sarcasm* films Meet the Blacks and this year’s vehicle for Dennis Quaid to go bonkers, The Intruder); they are actually not bad and hint to interesting themes. Naomie Harris is Alicia West, a black police officer facing an identity crisis due to the inherent challenges that come from being in that tricky dynamic. Her peers and childhood friends from a neighboring rough area are under the impression that she has turned her back on that community in order to join forces with the oppressors, so to speak. Unfortunately, the entire movie morphs into a generic action thriller with the simple message of “Be the change you seek”, which is in on-the-nose line that is actually uttered towards the end. No one said subtlety was Deon Taylor’s strong suit, but then again, I have no idea what any of his strengths are.
In a nutshell, officer West decides to switch shifts with one of her partners (Reid Scott) so he can celebrate with his significant other. The rookie cop gets paired with Darius (Mike Colter), with the two having a relatively successful night on the job (there is one near-fatal incident meant to showcase Alicia needs to have her head on a swivel and be more guarded on the job to protect herself), until Darius has to make a one last stop in the morning at an abandoned power plant. Alicia follows Darius into the building, only to accidentally witness him complicit in a group of cops murdering a drug dealer, with the whole thing captured on her standard protocol body camera. Horrified and eager to do the right thing, the crooked cops intend to kill her before the dirty laundry can be aired publicly.
Naturally, Alicia seeks sanctuary from her former community in the form of store owner Milo (Tyrus Gibson), who is not exactly eager to help her but begins to change his tune once he sees all the double-crossing going on and just how much danger she is in. Black and Blue is also a movie where it’s predictable to tell which allies are going to betray our protagonist, which parties will support her, and which enemies will come back to her side. The script from Peter A. Dowling doesn’t necessarily forget about the central dynamic of, well, black and blue, he just has no idea how to say anything stimulating or profound with the idea. Even the overreactive and unnecessarily brutal white officers feel more like cartoon characters than actual studies of real evil and racism. Yes, crooked police officers exist, but here’s a movie where the whole damn force is out to get Alicia, which is fairly absurd.
Nevertheless, the antagonists’ objective is to retrieve the body camera and destroy the evidence, meaning for Alicia it’s a rush to reconnect with her partner or anyone willing to stand side-by-side with her as they hightail it to the police station. Some characters attempt to dissuade her from doing so in regards to the fallout snitching could have on her career, whereas the crooked cops manipulate the uncle of the dead drug dealer that everything was Alicia’s doing. As if crooked cops were not enough for her to deal with…
Black and Blue is bland but nowhere near as insulting as other works from Deon Taylor. At least, there is some decent action here that is cleanly choreographed. However, he continues to fall into the trap of going against whatever message he wants to get across with his film. At one point, Alicia states that “murder is murder”, although because this is back when the film is still grounded in reality, it means something. Naomie Harris certainly is trying to create a multidimensional character out of this material, but it’s impossible; she turns into a murderous action hero herself, rendering the whole point moot. If Deon Taylor wants to be the change and part of solutions, he could start by making better movies that remain fixated on his themes of choice rather than constantly forgoing them for the cheapest and most clichéd thrills imaginable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com