By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

In recent years, the subject of racial discrimination by police has been an inevitably prominent topic in cinema. Most of the films which tackle this matter do so with much gravity (as they should), but this particular film uses the material within an action-thriller. Now, I am not saying that the filmmakers handle these themes completely frivolously. However, Black and Blue uses the subject matter in a unique and unexpected way. That said, Deon Taylor’s movie does have its compelling and powerful moments, but get undermined by its melodramatic and heavy-handed tendencies.

Naomie Harris stars as Alicia West, a New Orleans police officer new to the department. Though West is a rookie, she has combat experience, having served some time in the military. After being away from home several years, West returns to her hometown to find a police department plagued by racism and corruption in a town suffering from crime, violence and poverty. After witnessing a tremendously ugly example of police corruption, Alicia must flee to survive in a town that despises police and fight to reveal the graft and malfeasance that has perverted law enforcement in New Orleans.

Written by Peter A. Dowling, Deon Taylor’s movie does make for a moderately riveting piece of popcorn cinema, but lacks the real conviction to make a necessary impact. The movie does have its intense sequences, but also has its share of over-the-top and ham-fisted ones. Still, I could empathize with Alicia West’s woes and fears and admired her strength against seemingly impossible odds. On the other hand, I found myself chuckling at the movie’s overt theatricality. Overall, the film does entertain, but often at the expense of making a bold statement.

Struggling to keep the film grounded, Naomie Harris gives an intensely potent turn as Alicia West. I was also actually impressed with the performance of Tyrese Gibson who portrays West’s childhood friend and very reluctant ally Milo Jackson. Frank Grillo stars as corrupt narcotics officer Terry Malone and gets a little too carried away with this villanous role. Mike Coulter, who portrays gang leader Darius, has some fine moments, but also goes a little too hammy as the crime boss. The film also features adequate work by Reid Scott, Beau Knapp, Nafessa Williams, and James Moses Black.

And adequate is probably the best description of this film. Though it doesn’t try too hard to make a definitive commentary on the state of race relations in law enforcement, it does often try too hard to be dramatic. That is why I found it difficult to take the movie as a whole seriously. Black and Blue is a film I would recommend as an amusing and sometimes thrilling curiosity piece, but isn’t a film I would recommend as a source of intelligent inspiration.

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