Review by Sean Boelman
Black and Blue, directed by Deon Taylor (Traffik), is the latest thriller attempting to tackle the big issue of systemic racism within the justice system. Although the film often feels like it bit off a bit more than it can chew thematically, it nonetheless manages to be a mostly enjoyable and suspenseful, if relatively generic thriller.
The movie tells the story of a rookie police officer who, after witnessing some corrupt cops committing murder, must go on the run in a community she left behind to protect the body cam footage that will prove what she saw. This, a common set-up for a thriller brought into the modern age through the involvement of new technology, is a predictable and straightforward story. However, thanks to Taylor’s command of pacing, the film is a crowd-pleaser that will surely entertain audiences.
The only real issue with this movie’s pacing is that the first act, in which the characters are being introduced, drags on for a bit too long. The direction in which the story is heading is obvious, so the film would have been better off getting the audience into the action more quickly. When the main storyline kicks in, the movie will keep viewers on the edge of their seats even though the twists are all telegraphed.
Writer Peter A. Dowling doesn’t have anything particularly new to say about the issues that the film is discussing, but the angle from which the story is approached does offer an interesting perspective. As a former participant in the world that is skeptical of the police, the protagonist is perfectly built to exhibit internal conflicts that come to drive the movie. The most interesting sequences feature the protagonist as she deals with this identity crisis between allegiance to her community and allegiance to her brothers in blue.
Dowling writes the protagonist in a way that is extremely compelling and sympathetic, but all of the rest of the film’s characters — particularly the antagonists — are very archetypal. The dialogue is written in a very plain way, making the alignments of the characters clear from the time they are introduced. As such, attempts at surprising the audience frequently fall flat, especially for those who have a firm understanding of the genre’s conventions.
Naomie Harris gives a solid performance in her leading role, elevating the movie from a bland thriller to a somewhat interesting character study with heavy thriller elements. Harris really sells the conflicted feelings that the character is facing in an entirely believable way. Frank Grillo, who plays the primary antagonist, gives an over-the-top but enjoyable menacing turn as the corrupt cop. Mike Colter also gives a decent supporting turn, though he is sadly underused.
On a technical level, the film is disappointingly simple. For a movie so heavily rooted in new technology, one would think that the filmmakers would have been more inventive with their storytelling. For example, many of the characters are wearing body cams. Taylor should have used more shots from this perspective.
Well-intentioned but too plain to be of much impact, Black and Blue serves as decent popcorn entertainment elevated by Naomie Harris’s performance. This is a crowd-pleasing thriller, solid counter-programming for all of the franchise fare occupying multiplexes right now.
Black and Blue is now in theaters.