Dark Blue is based on a story treatment from author James Ellroy, a writer famous for intensely violent crime novels like L.A. Confidential. That book was turned into a hugely successful film in 1997 and was one of a number of similarly themed movies from around that time that depicted corrupt L.A. police and their various crimes. The screenwriter for the Denzel Washington film Training Day, David Ayer, was brought in to make Ellory’s labyrinth, Byzantine concept film-able. Starring Kurt Russell and featuring actors of the calibre of Brendan Gleeson and Ving Rhames and directed by Ron Shelton (White Men Can’t Jump, Bull Durham), it clearly has an impressive pedigree.
Which is why it’s frustrating that the film is such a missed opportunity. Taking inspiration from the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent riot that damaged large parts of the city, as well as then-recent scandals like the Rampart revelations, and considering all of the talent involved, it should be an equal to Curtis Hanson’s masterful noir. Instead Dark Blue is built on lazy contrivances, sometimes grindingly slow and populated by almost uniformly unsympathetic characters. If you take something like the television show Oz, that’s not always a problem if the drama they are involved in is compelling, but that’s not in evidence here. It’s a cynical, joyless film that seeks a final reel redemption for Russell’s dirty cop but still can’t help tacking on an unearned final dramatic punchline. Russell is a great lead, but he is supported by frequently awkward performances that struggle with the blunt tool of the script and sometimes awful dialogue. Shelton tries some subtle directing tricks but he’s undermined by an oddly inappropriate musical score, a lagging pace and a strangely tone-deaf approach to race. It’s not totally without merit (Kurt, mostly) but there’s little nuance or replay-ability here.
As for Arrow’s release for this Blu-ray, it comes with a solid high-def picture and a series of carried-over extras that, although promotional pieces, are decent enough. Code Blue (18 mins) is an archival making-of documentary, a featurette on the film's look called By the Book (7 mins) accompanies it, with a third featurette on the movie’s portrayal of the police called Necessary Force (7 mins) rounding them out. There’s commentary by Shelton, some archival interviews and the trailer and some TV spots. So, if you’re intending to pick this up, there’s nothing really new (apart from a collector’s booklet with first pressings by James Oliver) but what is there is worthwhile. A decent but inessential Blu-ray upgrade for a disappointingly unremarkable film. If you’re a fan, however, it’s the best release yet.
DARK BLUE (2002) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RON SHELTON / SCREENPLAY: DAVID AYER / STARRING: KURT RUSSELL, VING RHAMES, SCOTT SPEEDMAN, MICHAEL MICHELE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 7TH