Using the life and media attention Rodney King received, Dark Blue tries desperately to make itself relevant to the real world. Down and out in Los Angeles Eldon Perry (Kurt Russel) may be, it does not stop him from being a hardened, corrupt cop from seeking vindication and personal justice. But he is a good corrupt cop, as opposed to the dastardly ones he looks to take down. When he can be bothered to leave the smoke-filled dive bars, Perry and the characters within Dark Blue are aware of their surroundings and the cultural stance it takes. When utilising such a poignant moment in modern American history, the story needs to make itself and its intentions clear. One of the many issues for Dark Blue, then, is not cutting through the issues its story creates, not just for its narrative, but for the characters it inflicts on an audience.
Yet another film that wishes to think masculinity in action circles is no more than whiskey drinking and palling around with like-minded whiskey drinkers. Ron Shelton shows literal inspiration in his direction, decisively cutting through as a man who will process the progress of his feature with simplicity. Remarkably uninteresting at times, Dark Blue suffers the Bad Boys effect. Its cuts and action must be long-lasting and nonsensical, its characters too serious to be sympathised with, but act as though they are childish and removed from the real world. Russell bears the brunt of this approach, his leading performance not the best work he has offered.
Perry is a man grappling with insecurities and addictions. Who isn’t? He is accused of jealousy and embarrassment, but none of it makes much sense. His explanations rely on an intimate understanding and relationship with the many names he lists off as explanation for his feelings. His old friends and work colleagues are, obviously, in deep with the crime he is asked to investigate. Having Brendan Gleeson is an incredible asset for any director. Having him perform with an American accent neuters his ability to dominate a scene. He does manage to power through, though. Jonathan Banks and Gleeson both provide accessible supporting performances, while Scott Speedman does his best Russell impression, slicked back mullet et al.
Dark Blue leaves little for the imagination, and even less to get invested in. Its cuts between a homicide robbery and a police investigation are pace breaking and peace shattering. How far people will go to claim what they believe to be theirs is of no consequence. Shelton pieces together a film that doesn’t understand how to utilise the cultural commentary at the heart of it, enamoured instead by its ensemble cast. A battle rages on in giving them the right levels of screen time, and that stability is never struck. Cigar smoking chums rub their hands as they pull off yet another successful protection of a young kind rising through the ranks. Promotions and problems rise up and down for these characters, and it never feels as though they get their just desserts, even if Shelton makes sure some are doomed to meet with a grisly fate.