THE STORY – A rookie policewoman in New Orleans inadvertently captures the shooting death of a young drug dealer on her body cam. After realizing the murder was committed by corrupt cops, she teams up with the only person from the community who’s willing to help her. Now, she finds herself on the run from both the vengeful criminals and the lawmen who desperately want to destroy the incriminating footage.
THE CAST – Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Reid Scott, Beau Knapp & Nafessa Williams
THE TEAM – Deon Taylor (Director) & Peter A. Dowling (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 108 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
Needless to say, tensions between the police and the black community in America is high, with news of unnecessary police violence seemingly every week, often with no consequences. It’s a challenging, troubling issue with so many sides, so many ripple effects. There’s an effective, nuanced way to tell a story tackling this issue. “Black and Blue” does the exact opposite of that, eschewing all nuance and subtlety to make the most generic version of this story as possible.
Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is a rookie cop, recently returned from active duty overseas. She’s back in her hometown of New Orleans, now patrolling the same streets she grew up on. Oddly, this element, which has plenty of potential, goes completely unexplored. It feels like an afterthought. Fairly quickly, the film begins to tell a story we’ve seen a dozen times: West witnesses a group of cops, including the cop she’s paired up with, executing local drug dealers in cold blood. She catches the whole thing on her bodycam, but not before they discover her witnessing the murders. They shoot her but mostly catch her bulletproof vest. Injured, she’s now on the run.
This film shows you in five different ways every move it will make before it happens. Earlier, mere moments after West is paired up with this new officer, Brown (James Moses Black), he sees her bodycam and menacingly says “just don’t point it at me.” He might as well have said, “I’m a dirty cop, FYI.” That describes the subtlety of this movie in a nutshell. Just about every officer is not just dirty, but genuinely evil, no shades of gray here. It’s silly and cartoonish, robbing the film of any real effectiveness. These aren’t human beings, but rather walking and talking plot devices.
Soon, West pairs up with Milo “Mouse” Jackson (Tyrese Gibson), a friendly face who might be able to help. Harris and Gibson are both committed to these roles, bringing a level of believability that the script doesn’t help them with. Gibson, in particular, is very grounded and human, caught between the two worlds of wanting to help West without selling out his neighborhood. While her never-quite-right American accent doesn’t help, Harris plays the panicked rookie well. Elsewhere, Mike Coulter plays Darius, a drug kingpin of sorts, who may have been better served in a film that let him play up the flamboyance of his character.
There is very little true tension in this film because it’s all so obvious. Multiple moments play out as if there’s supposed to be a twist that we see coming from a mile away. West describes the murders she witnessed to her partner. While seeming like he’s trying to help her, he says the names of the cops who committed the murders. “How’d you know their names, I never said them?” “Uh…you must’ve said them!” It’s tough to not roll your eyes.
Not only does the writing not hold up, but the filmmaking is occasionally sloppy too. One outdoor scene had very clearly overlaid misty rain on top of the footage, but the actors within the scene are dry. It’s distracting. Darius tells a kid with glasses to hack into a bodycam, cause ya know, that’s a thing that people can just do. Moments like these fill up this film, and they’re consistently frustrating.
Most importantly, “Black and Blue” never settles into what it’s trying to say. West is caught between her community and the corrupt police. There is so much potential there for a powerful message, or to dive into questions about police brutality, or the negative effects of over-policing, or even what it’s like to be a black woman on the police force. All of this potential is wasted on a truly generic story, missing the opportunity for this film to have an impact.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Naomie Harris and Tyrese Gibson do the best with what they’re given (which isn’t much).
THE BAD – The film lacks any sort of nuance or subtlety. Every beat of this film is as obvious as can be, robbing the film of any tension, surprise, or power. Generic from top to bottom.