black and blue review

For many actors, an Oscar nomination is a crowning achievement that can lead to newfound opportunities or added prestige to their name. But for Naomie Harris — and in an unfortunate pattern, many Oscar nominees and winners of color — that Oscar nomination has amounted to zilch. Since earning a nod for Best Supporting Actress for her raging turn in Moonlight, the British actress has been relegated to supporting roles in blockbusters that have ranged from deranged to disastrous.

But it looked like her fortunes might change with Black and Blue, Harris’ first long-deserved lead role in a feature film since her Oscar nomination. In the action thriller directed by Deon Taylor, Harris stars as a rookie cop in New Orleans who ends up witnessing violent evidence of police corruption. But what could be a monumental turn for Harris in a painfully topical film ends up being a B-movie thriller that cops out on any potent sociopolitical messaging in favor of hamfisted platitudes.

Black and Blue follows Alicia West (Harris), an NOPD rookie who makes a tense homecoming to her hometown after leaving for a more than a decade to serve in the Army. Jogging through her posh new neighborhood, Alicia finds herself accosted by the police in a sequence that is uncomfortably, terrifyingly real — Alicia, wearing a hoodie, is pulled over by two hostile cops who immediately arrest her at gunpoint — but which immediately disengages from that realism when one cop screams at Alicia, “What are you doing in my neighborhood?” It’s all so over-the-top and aggressively clumsy, and an encapsulation of where Black and Blue goes wrong.

Its premise sets the stage for a powerful sociopolitical thriller: Alicia witnesses the cold-blooded execution of two unarmed drug dealers by a squad of dirty police officers (Frank Grillo, Beau Knapp). When her body cam captures the whole thing, Alicia becomes the target of the dirty cops and eventually, the entire city when the group’s mastermind Terry Malone (Grillo) frames her for the murders. But those sociopolitical threads never get picked up, as it becomes clear that Black and Blue is no more than a Bourne action sequence turned into a threadbare two-hour film.

When Alicia first makes the rounds as a police officer with her partner Kevin (Reid Scott), she’s met with nothing but disdain from her former friends and community, who have fallen further into poverty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But she finds no comfort in her new “blue” cohorts either, who demand that she pick a side. “You think they’re your people?” her superior Officer Deacon Brown (James Moses Black) spits at her after a near-fatal tussle near a club. “You’re blue now.” But Black and Blue never does anything with the socially fraught conflict that its title offers, instead reducing itself into a tedious two-hour chase sequence in which Alicia evades the legions of corrupt cops and vengeful drug dealers.

Harris, at least, is dedicated to bringing to life a character who maintains her noble idealism even when she gets thrown through the ringer. Shot at, framed, and forced to glue her wound back together, Harris’ Alicia is admirably resilient, and the Oscar nominee lends her a pained vulnerability even as the character goes through absolutely zero growth. But aside from Frank Grillo, who is doing his scenery chewing B-movie villain best as the undeniably skeevy Malone, every other supporting character is a cardboard cutout so stereotypical that they can border on offensive — Mike Coulter’s brutish drug dealer being the number one culprit.

Shunned by both her communities, Alicia is turns to Milo (Tyrese Gibson, who does little to stand out as the second lead of the film), a sympathetic market clerk who she vaguely knew in her past. He ends up involved in Alicia’s plight as the film stages chase after chase to increasingly redundant and formulaic degrees. Black and Blue is not without its thrills, but despite being packed to the brim with aggressive male posturing and machismo, the film is remarkably devoid of tension.

Alicia runs from point A to B to C, driven by her noble intent to upload the footage and “be the change,” but without the film digging any deeper into those implications. The importance of the racial tensions that are introduced at the beginning of the film are lessened until the story becomes about a small band of corrupt cops who are abusing the system. It’s a frustratingly muddled approach to a film with a premise that could say so much, and ends up saying nothing at all.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10

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