*******Spoilers for Black and Blue Below*******
In Black and Blue, Naomie Harris stars as Alicia West, a rookie beat cop for the New Orleans police force. West is a combat vet from Afghanistan who’s experienced a tough time transitioning into her new role as a cop in the area where she grew up. There’s a clear, racial divide between the community at large and the force itself. During her third week on the job, West learns firsthand why that divide is so large when she witnesses a crooked cop named Terry Malone execute a group of drug dealers in cold blood – and catches it all on video with her body cam.
After West escapes, Malone frames her for the murders and kicks off a city-wide manhunt that includes cops and gangsters alike. On the run, West must stay alive long enough to upload her bodycam footage and reveal the massive police conspiracy.
So, Black and Blue is a difficult movie because it fluctuates pretty aggressively throughout. One minute, unrealistic, awkward lines of dialogue are thrown around and the next a valid, and surprisingly nuanced, point about race relations in America is being made. One minute, the film’s long list of incredible actors is pretty obviously phoning it in, and the next they’re all on their A+ game. There are a few things that remain constant throughout though: Naomie Harris’ performance, the film’s inability to pay off its tension in a satisfying way, and its indecision to go all-in on one message.
First up, Harris is acting her ass off here. There’s nothing ridiculously over the top or mind-blowing. But, there’s not one single moment where her facade as Alicia West falls, you believe she’s actually a rookie New Orleans police officer from beginning to end. And she, basically by herself, grounds the film with that believability. The three other ‘big stars’ alongside her, Tyrese Gibson, Mike Colter, and Frank Grillo, all do well. But, there are a few scenes where they’re obviously just reciting lines or feel dreadfully underutilized (Colter especially).
The next thing this film does really well is actually something it doesn’t do. Time and time again, the film brings tension to a boil and lets it simmer just below the surface. Whether through a cat-and-mouse chase scene or a tense stand-off, the film is really good at building the tension. But, when it’s time to let that water boil over the film opts to just turn off the burner instead. With quick cutting and practically the same shot of an empty room, or blank space where the character in peril was just seconds before, the film relies on the same “gotcha” tricks over and over and over. By the end, it becomes so predictable that it stops feeling like they suddenly quit boiling the water altogether. Instead, it feels like they threw the water out the window and hit you over the head with the pot.
And, finally, speaking over being beat over the head. Going in I expected about as much nuance as one does with a cop drama called Black and Blue. And for the first 45 minutes, my expectations were met with something along the lines of “You’re blue and blue is better” was shoehorned in wherever possible. But, as the film went on, it picked up a lot more subtlety and nuance as the script swapped “tell” for “show.” Much of the second half of the film uses environmental storytelling and visual juxtaposition to show the divide in the community. But, (see the point above about the film’s struggle to pay things off) Black and Blue fumbles its final message and lands somewhere closer to ‘do the right thing’ rather than addressing the ‘black versus blue’ elephant in the room. It’s by no means a bad message, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like there was a deeper level to be addressed.
Overall, Black and Blue isn’t going to be for everyone. It takes a definite stance against police officers and the shroud of secrecy around many precincts. In many ways, it also isn’t a satisfying thriller with a consistent pace and pay-off structure. But, its an entertaining watch and thrilling ride when it wants to be. And ultimately, it broaches some heavy, important themes albeit in a roundabout way.
Black and Blue is in theaters now.