Black and Blue
Updated: Feb 9, 2020
A rookie police officer witnesses a cop execute several unarmed teenagers, then has to escape a dangerous neighborhood with corrupt cops on her trail in the thriller Black and Blue. When it focuses on that story, it is actually exciting. The cat and mouse scenes are suspenseful, the hero is sympathetic and the action comes from the story, instead of the other way around. What holds the movie back is the seeming insistence that it be about something more. The rookie cop is black in a black neighborhood. Because she has a badge, they do not trust her. And now the police, supposedly “her people,” want to kill her. One group thinks she turned her back on them, the other turned their backs on her.
There is obviously a lot to be said in regards to the difficulties between the police and black communities (the vast majority of police here are white). It is a complex issue that is baked into this plot. When the screenplay tries to address it directly, it just does not work. This is an action movie all the way through and any attempts at larger significance fall flat, making it feel longer than its 104 minutes (without the end credits). That said, the thriller aspect connects well enough that genre fans will probably want to give it a look.
Alicia West has recently returned to New Orleans to work as a police officer after serving in Afghanistan. Things are different and she is considered a traitor by her old friends, who have a very combative relationship with the cops. She rides along with a veteran officer who tells her to wait in the car while he meets with an informant in an abandoned warehouse. She hears shots and goes in to see him stand by as a narcotics officer murders someone. She caught the whole thing on her body camera, so they need her dead before she can get the evidence to the precinct.
You can see in that description where the racial elements come into play. That is fine and would have been thought-provoking enough if it was left at that. However, Black and Blue wants to engage with its subject on a deeper level and cannot. Hearing these characters preach at each other about right and wrong or the power of the police feels really forced even in a plot as complicated as this. I guess it was not enough for us to notice the issues ourselves, we had to be smacked in the head with them. Director Deon Taylor had a similar problem in his thriller Traffik, about a group of people menaced by a human trafficking ring. Granted, it had way bigger problems, though using a serious topic as window dressing for a genre film can come off as exploitative if not handled delicately. It was handled very poorly there. Taylor toes that line in Black and Blue, but never crosses it. That makes it an annoyance, yet one that can be overcome.
Its biggest asset is Naomie Harris as Alicia. The early scenes, before she has to use her wits to stay alive, establish a woman who does not recognize the city she has returned to. Has she changed? Or is she treated differently only because she now wears a blue uniform? That is something she struggles with. We efficiently learn she is smart, hard-working and truly cares about the community. It is easy to root for Alicia. Harris makes her desperation genuinely relatable. I believed her as a woman trying to do the right thing at great personal risk. That is approximately 70% of the battle for a movie like this and made it a little easier to get over the rough spots.
The action mostly consists of her hiding or running from armed pursuers, with a few sequences of gunplay. This stuff is fairly gripping because we know who is doing what and why. The action is not for its own sake, but in service of a story hinging on its outcome. It is simple and not focused on explosions or choreography. The action is personal, making Black and Blue thrilling when it is not jamming too much into its plot.
I strongly disliked Deon Taylor’s last two offerings (Traffik and this year’s dreadful The Intruder), so I did not have a good feeling coming into this. Fortunately, this is a well-made piece of entertainment, prevented from being an easy recommendation by an overabundance of ambition. I have said multiple times I try to judge a movie based on how successfully it does what it wants to do. Black and Blue does what it sets out to do pretty well, I just wish it had tried to do less.
3¼ out of 5
Naomie Harris as Alicia West
Tyrese Gibson as Milo “Mouse” Jackson
Frank Grillo as Terry Malone
James Moses Black as Officer Brown
Reid Scott as Kevin
Mike Colter as Darius
Nafessa Williams as Missy
Nelson Bonilla as Officer Doyle
Directed by Deon Taylor
Written by Peter A. Dowling