There’s not all that much that’s surprising about Dark Blue, but there’s enough to recommend it beyond its inevitable, shortcut-to-video fate. To start with, like so many Kurt Russell enterprises, the movie’s star delivers more earnestness and hard work than can rightly be expected from an actor that’s been in the business for forty years and yet still always seems to be only on the verge of a major breakthrough.It’s a shame in some ways, but Russell is the perfect actor for a movie like this; he clearly aspires to act the hell out of the limits of just about every role, much as director Ron Shelton clearly aspired to direct the hell out of a script that, despite being based on a story by James Ellroy and being penned by David Ayer, has that quality of not quite being finished.
What they achieve is often farily predictable (you live in a world of wonderment if you are truly surprised by the second act’s major death scene) but it is often bracing, thrilling and brave on its own relative terms. The filmmakers get points major points for not flinching in their use of the Los Angeles riots of 1992 as a backdrop. A less inventive or even a more artful’ film would have delegated the riots to a mere supporting role, but Dark Blue’ has enough conviction to drag its audience by the collar directly into the riot zone. I lived in downtown L.A. in 1992, and what I saw on screen is a convincing re-enactment of what I watched on the sidewalks of Wilshire Boulevard.
In the end though, it’s not quite enough. The third act, which for such a willingly untidy movie resolves itself too patly, lacks the wollop promised by the frequently gripping dialogue that precedes it. And Dark Blues similarity to Joe Carnahan’s excellent Narc works against it. For gritty crime dramas disrupted by a rude injection of moral ambiguity, your ten dollars are better spent on that film.