Black and Blue
Starring Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Fran Grillo, Reid Scott, Mike Colter, James Moses Black
Director Deon Taylor’s second film of 2019 is a tremendous improvement from “The Intruder,” which currently sits on many critic’s worst lists. “Black and Blue” is a step toward a better path as Taylor’s interest in suspense and the thriller genre is applied to better use. “Black and Blue” is a simplistic cat and mouse game that’s more interested in tension than the nuanced social injustice themes, which literally lay at the film’s fingertips. Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris (“Moonlight,” “Skyfall”) is the film’s secret weapon. Her performance is the lone selling point. Taylor implements an editing and scoring style of the 2015 film “Sicario,” which the filmmaker obviously (and sometimes blatantly) uses as a mood board. The casting of Gibson and especially Grillo are the definition of typecasting, both are better in various other projects.
Following two tours in Iraq, now three weeks as a rookie in the New Orleans police department, Alicia West (Harris) joined the force to provoke change in her community. No friends or family to speak of, she agreed to swing a double so her partner Kevin (Scott) can spend time with his loved ones. Partnered with career cop Officer Deacon Brown (Black) for the night, their stop at an abandoned warehouse in the wrong side of town she witnesses something NARC prefers she not see. She witnesses an execution that will implicate major players on the force. Unsure who to trust, West must rely on the very community she turned away from and rely on her former self for survival. Protecting the body camera, is her top priority, even if it means her life.
It’s blaringly obvious that the male director and screenwriter haven’t a clue how to portray a black female cop, which means it’s all up to Harris’ research and performance to sell what legitimacy this film musters.
The body camera is a focal point of the entire story, evidenced by its prominent placement in the movie poster and the routine shots in the film of officers charging and logging their cameras after each shift. The title comes from a line Deacon Brown offers the rookie, ‘despite skin color, your community will now only see you as blue.’ Taylor and screenwriter Peter A. Dowling either don’t grasp or don’t care about exploring what it’s like for a black female cop to be working in a world where she’s ostracized due to her skin color, her background, and her gender. “Black and Blue” bypasses everything that could elevate it above being just another unrealistic cop movie so we can get to the action quicker. To its credit, “Black and Blue” never becomes solely a film about race. Character actress Deneen Tyler (“Out of Blue,” “Logan Lucky“) is virtually wasted as captain of the police force.
With Harris’ dedicated and, at times, exceptional performance, combined with situational suspense, “Black and Blue” keeps itself moderately entertained. Yet it’s glaringly obvious that the male director and screenwriter haven’t a clue how to portray a black female cop, which means it’s all up to Harris’ research and performance to sell what legitimacy this film musters. You can almost forgive much of the film’s faults until you reach the ludicrous ending, the absolute worst way to wrap this story. The filmmakers ask us to suspend too much reality in the final moments which jeopardizes everything we have watched until that point.
Harris is exceptional in a film that has zero interest in nuance or underlying themes, only action and suspense.