Starring: Naomie Harris, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter
Director: Deon Taylor
Screenplay: Peter A. Dowling
Action/Crime/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Greg, I’ve got bruises all over my rugged body.
As you deserve for such an obvious joke. But this is the latest in a series of stories about African Americans straddling the line between Black culture and their emergence into non-marginalized society. Let’s recap:
We meet Alicia West (Naomie Harris), a young African-American cop who has just joined the New Orleans police department. Alicia is patrolling the same disadvantaged neighborhood in which she grew up. One day she agrees to work overtime with a different partner, an older guy named Deacon (James Moses Black). They are called to an abandoned warehouse and Deacon tells Alicia to wait in the car. Curious about what’s going on, she secretly follows Deacon to determine what is transpiring inside the warehouse.
It turns out the narcotics cops led by Terry Malone (Frank Grillo) are deep in cahoots with local drug dealers. But the mayor is cracking down and before the low-level dealers can out him, he is killing them off. When West comes upon the scene, she and her active bodycam witness Malone execute the nephew of the drug kingpin Darius (Mike Colter). Malone frames West for the murder and has the entire police force after her. Now she’s in the race of her life to get her bodycam back to the station before Malone and the crooked cops of the New Orleans PD kill her.
Greg, it’s hard to make a good cop movie these days, primarily because the genre has been oversaturated with films and TV shows for at least seven decades. There are no original storylines remaining to be mined, only derivative story retreads that often can barely keep us awake. Black and Blue is no exception. Yet to this movie’s credit, there are enough good characters and solid storytelling that I felt entertained and, yes, on the edge of my seat at times. I give a lot of credit to the movie’s hero, Alicia West, who is played skillfully by the mega-talented Naomie Harris. Harris has many of the qualities of our best heroes — she is strong, compassionate, and charismatic.
So what can we attribute this movie’s success to? As a psychologist, I look to archetypes. A good, juicy archetype taps into psychologically powerful character types and situations that are the product of millions of years of evolution. The archetype of the “underdog” is represented well by Alicia, the rookie cop from a disadvantaged background. Her underdog status makes her instantly likeable and has us pulling hard for her. There are also the archetypes of the corrupt authority figure, the abusive male, the long-lost friend (Missy), the reluctant helper (Milo), and the bad guy who redeems himself (Kevin). These archetypes grab us emotionally, pull us in, and grip us at the deepest levels of our psyche.
I agree, Scott, this is a classic buddy-cop story from beginning to end. However, what is not classic is the role of an African American woman caught between two worlds: the world of “blue” cops and a “black” neighborhood. We’ve seen this tug-of-war between two cultures several times in recent memory: The Hate U Give, Blakkklansman, Sorry To Bother You. And a large number of films feature African American performers as the lead character. It wasn’t but just a few years ago that a film had to have a white male lead to get a green light in Hollywood. Now, it’s clear that stories featuring minorities of all types can have a broad appeal. And we as the viewing audience are the winners in this case. We are now getting fantastic stories with diverse casts that feature the tapestry of issues that minorities face.
While this is a pretty by-the-numbers The Bad Guys are Cops trope, Naomie Harris’s performance is worth the price of admittance. We feel her desperation. And we’re witness once again to the Drug Dealer with a Heart of Gold trope. I’m not a fan of this trope and we’re seeing it very often in modern movies.
Black and Blue is one of those movies that has no right to succeed given the cliched script about corrupt cops, the lone underdog hero willing to fight the corruption, and the odds being a million to one against her. Yet there are just enough good, solid performances here and enough powerful archetypal characters to give us some worthwhile and satisfying entertainment. There are no Oscars to be won here, yet I recommend the movie on the strength of Naomie Harris’s outstanding performance. I give Black and Blue 3 Reels out of 5.
Our underdog hero most certainly traverses the mythic hero’s journey, beginning with her unexpected witnessing of corrupt police executing undercover cops. Her bodycam is the key device that must be protected to vindicate our hero from being legally charged as a cop-killer. Like all good heroes, Alicia receives help from others and is transformed into a paragon of strength, courage, and resilience. Her heroism earns her 4 Hero points out of 5.
The message of this movie centers on the importance of maintaining one’s integrity and living one’s values no matter what the cost. Alicia does what all good heroes do, namely, pursue justice and truth no matter what price she must pay. In a world that is desperate for integrity, Alicia West is the embodiment of doing the right thing no matter the cost. Boy do we need this message today. I give it 4 Message points out of 5.
We’ve seen this plot over and over again since before 1973’s Serpico. But the added twist of a female officer having to choose between the “blue” world of the fraternity of the police force and her “black” heritage (plus the modern addition of bodycam technology) makes Black and Blue worthy of our attention. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.
Alicia West’s tenacity and grit make her a heroic character. She also gains heroic points for being an American combat veteran having served in Afghanistan. And she stands up against a corrupt police system. I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.
Finally, her message is clear: “People are People.” She says her experience fighting in Afghanistan taught her that “we’re all just trying go get by day-by-day.” She doesn’t care what color your uniform is, or what color your skin is. This is a good message for our day and I give it 3 out of 5 Message points.