Black and Blue movie review: Naomie Harris is torn between duty and community in this generic cop action thriller
Black and Blue neither stimulates nor provokes as an editorial on the impact of racism and police violence in the US
castNaomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Reid Scott, Beau Knapp, Nafessa Williams
Deon Taylor's latter-day B movie, Black and Blue, opens with quite a resonant scene. Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is out on her morning jog through a suburban neighbourhood when she is stopped and roughed up by a pair of racist white New Orleans PD cops, who, like every other racist white cop in the US, are suspicious of those running-while-black. When one of the cops pulls out her ID and realises she is one of them — a fellow cop, not a human being clearly, they let her go.
The scene sets up the title of the film and premise as Alicia struggles to reconcile these worlds — her identity as an African American woman and her role as a police officer. In a time when the conversation about race and police brutality remains front-page news in the US, Black and Blue however fails to offer a nuanced parable on policing issues, or a larger, more devastating critique of violence in America.
The verity staged in the opening scene soon loses its potency as Taylor likes to cut to the chase — quite literally, preferring to indulge in endless car chases and shoot-outs, rather than social commentary.
Alicia's loyalties are further tested when she stumbles upon more crooked white cops, led by detective Terry Malone (Frank Grillo), shooting a local drug dealer. She captures the whole thing on her body cam, and soon becomes the next target. From here, it is essentially a race-against-the-clock thriller as she must get back to the police station to file her evidence before they kill her too.
To make matters worse, the crooked cops have convinced the neighbourhood drug kingpin Darius Terrow (Mike Colter) that Alicia was the one who pulled the trigger on his crew member. With both sides chasing her and closing in, she must rely on an old acquaintance named Milo “Mouse” Jackson (Tyrese Gibson) to survive and save the day.
Despite the plot being similar to a ton of other cop action movies, it makes for an agreeable one-time thrill ride because the protagonist's dilemma feels so real. Even the way Gibson's character is continually mistreated by the police feels all too real. Of course, it is the duality of Harris's character — as she is forced to choose between her allegiance to her community and her colleagues — which makes for a juicy internal conflict.
It is shocking that this is Harris's first leading role in a career where she has been relegated to playing the supporting act, even after her Oscar-nominated turn in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016). Her performance is incredibly empathetic as she tries to maintain her strong sense of duty in an America where white policemen draw the thin blue line and keep deliberately crossing it.
But the film is still a thin-surface mimesis of a complex issue. So, by reducing its antagonists — from Grillo's corrupt detective to Colter's vengeful drug dealer — to caricaturish villains, it loses some of its punch and most of its nuance. There is a frustrating chasm between the aspirations of the film for social commentary, and its B-movie construction that tries to extract maximum mileage from its high-velocity minimalism and pulp action thrills.
For a film with a bit of righteous anger, Black and Blue is a little too conventionally dramatised. So, it neither stimulates nor provokes as an editorial on the impact of racism and police violence in the US. Frankly, it feels like a cop-out.
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