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Tyrese Gibson as Milo in the Deon Taylor-directed Black and Blue.

Alan Markfield/Sony Pictures

  • Black and Blue
  • Directed by Deon Taylor
  • Written by Peter A. Dowling
  • Starring Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson and Frank Grillo
  • Classification R; 108 minutes

rating

Director Deon Taylor has carved out an interesting niche for himself. Earlier this year, The Intruder, his taut and melodramatic home invasion thriller starring Dennis Quaid, was released. It had a middling critical reception but a decent turn at the box office. Now, his latest, Black and Blue, follows up as a one-two punch that marks a step forward in Taylor’s brand of stylish and heightened thriller films.

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Black and Blue stars Naomie Harris (Moonlight) as Alicia West, a rookie cop in the New Orleans police force who is dragged into a game of cat and mouse with corrupt superior officers after her body cam records them executing an unarmed drug dealer. As the officers, led by dirty narcotics detective Terry Malone (Frank Grillo), hunt Alicia down to get her body cam, they also weaponize local gang members, convincing them that she was in fact the one who killed the civilian. With neither the police station nor the streets of New Orleans safe, Alicia turns to an old friend, Milo (Tyrese Gibson), to help her stay alive long enough to hand over her footage to the appropriate authorities.

Taylor’s film has no qualms about sacrificing subtext in order to directly address issues of racism and police corruption. The script, penned by Peter A. Dowling, is consistently on the nose and as a result, it can be frustratingly literal. In the opening scene, Alicia is pulled over and aggressively frisked by cops who only stop when they realize she also wields a badge. Her partner, Kevin (Reid Scott), at one point explains that there are neighbourhoods in the city where they don’t answer calls unless another cop is in trouble. It’s made crystal clear that the divisions between the black community and the cops run deep and this divide leaves Alicia trying to negotiate a space in-between, seemingly to no avail.

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Frank Grillo, left, plays narcotics detective Terry Malone.

Alan Markfield/Sony Pictures

By verbalizing its themes time and again, Black and Blue leaves little up to interpretation. It hits you over the head with its meanings and then does so again for good measure. However, while the script often fails to possess a deft touch, Harris’s performance is steady, often grounding what could have been histrionic.

While staying resolute throughout the nerve-wracking events that transpire, Alicia is forced to confront her idealized perspective on her role in the police force, how much she can effect change from the inside, and how many dirty cops need to be uncovered before it’s clear these aren’t just a few bad apples. Harris strikes the balance between Alicia’s unwavering personal honour code and her anxieties about being a cop. Her performance resonates and successfully obscures the script’s shortcomings.

The film also benefits from Taylor’s collaborative team behind the scenes. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti is known for his sublime work with director Michael Mann on films such as Public Enemies and The Insider. With Black and Blue, he once again captures this crime film with slick camerawork and an eye for action scenes. Backing all of this is the film’s pulsating, synth-heavy score – courtesy of composer Geoff Zanelli, who also worked on The Intruder – that crafts a rhythm and racks up the tension.

Black and Blue’s lack of subtlety may turn off some audiences, but those who can get on board with Taylor’s unrestrained style will be rewarded with an action flick that delivers an energetic thrill ride and a timely rumination on racism in the police force.

Black and Blue opens Oct. 25

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