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As we get closer to the end of the calendar year, the movie market will shift to two tried and true types of films that take up the most cinematic real estate: prestige pictures and tentpole blockbusters. Director Deon Taylor’s Black and Blue is an ambitious attempt to try and mix the two of those worlds, by pairing a fast-paced action thriller with a more dramatic, socially conscious theme. Unfortunately, while the total package is well intended, it’s too unbalanced to hit the mark it’s aiming for.
Over the course of 36 hours, Black and Blue follows Alicia West (Naomie Harris), a rookie cop new to the New Orleans beat. When Alicia stumbles upon the murder of an informant that involves a corrupt officer (Frank Grillo) and his crew, she accidentally incriminates those involved, thanks to her bodycam recording the entire event.
With both crooked cops and criminal elements hunting her down to get the evidence, she’ll have to trust someone connected to her past (Tyrese Gibson) if she has any hopes of staying alive long enough to expose those crimes.
Black and Blue certainly has the best of intentions, and for the most part the film succeeds at juxtaposing its worlds of action and thought. The movie is certainly a lightning-fast enterprise that doesn’t lose momentum in the storytelling. Not to mention that the tight timeline of events also helps keep things moving, as Naomie Harris’ Alicia is put through both moments of stealth evasion and instances of brute force in the name of survival.
Taking the lead in Black and Blue’s chain of events, Harris glued me to the screen throughout this story. Both her acting chops, as well as her aptitude for action heavy sequences, are hard to look away from, as she delivers an electrifying performance as the moral center of this universe.
Complimenting her commanding lead is Tyrese Gibson, in his most introspective and subdued role to date. His character of Mouse is atypical of the bigger franchise work that Gibson has been doing for the past couple of years, but he’s got what it takes to bring the quiet force of his character to life. Both Mouse and Alicia take the film’s core tenet of “be the change” to heart, and in their own way, they embody that message quite well.
And yet, Black and Blue still manages to slightly botch the execution of that sentiment, as there are a handful of clichés that hit the audience over the head. There’s even a climactic moment where Naomie Harris’ protagonist is questioned about why she’s making such an effort to deliver this footage, and her response is to shout those very words she embodies on screen.
Subtlety is not one of this film’s strong suits, and it’s there that the utopian thinking espoused in Black and Blue’s overall proceedings gets in the way of what’s still a very entertaining movie. Even in the face of heavy-handed dialogue and simple plot, there’s enough gravitas to keep the film from veering into too much of a socially charged mode, and there’s surely enough action to thrill a crowd that wants to be entertained.
If anything, Black and Blue could serve as an inspiration to continue making these sorts of films, as Deon Taylor and famed cinematographer Dante Spinotti bring its story to life with such artistic visuals. There’s even a moment where a villainous drug dealer, played by Luke Cage’s Mike Colter, slowly moves across the frame with the look of a bloodthirsty shark. It’s images like that which make Black and Blue a movie with a visual language so strong that it helps carry the film past some of its thematic weaknesses.
The message at the heart of Black and Blue is one that is relevant to our modern culture, and that sort of thinking is always welcome at the movies. If it was refined a little better and allowed to truly mesh with the hard boiled action that it wants to use as a delivery method, then this might have been a more successful story overall. But for a film that wants to trade on the message of providing some food for thought, Black and Blue is more of a snack than a full meal.