After various gritty police dramas on the big screen (ala "Training Day"), Ron Shelton's "Dark Blue" hits cinemas with more of a whimper than a bang but still has its own charms. Instead of the endless steadicams and grainy contrast techniques we've become used to thanks to the likes of Antoine Fuqua, 'Blue' opts for more conventional camera work and standard corrupt cop drama which seems more suited to television.
Subplots about a failing marriage, blackmailled snitches and a young couple whose jobs make it awkward for them to be involved are standard B movie fare and whilst the good looking Scott Speedman & Michael Michele fill in the roles of that last subplot well, they aren't exactly strong performances. So what's so good about it? Very simple - Kurt Russell. This is without a doubt the best turn the actor has given in over a decade. Its a character which plays perfectly to Russell's strengths - smart ass, arrogant, charming, volatile, etc. Its like his role in "Tango & Cash" but with a realistic mean ass streak, one you can't help but eventually sympathise with.
Much of the movie is Russell getting into rather shady dealings and power plays with both street crims and his dangerous boss, played with much glee by Brendan Gleeson who also turns in a solid performance. Same can't be said for Ving Rhames who has only a few scenes and whose part of what feels like a very truncated subplot, whilst Lolita Davidovich is wasted in a standard upset long-suffering wife role though thankfully gives her a sense of inner strength.
DOP Barry Peterson helps give the film its clean but realistic look, and whilst the decision to set this against the LA riots ultimately leads to nothing, it still makes for some interesting scenes towards the end to give us a short glimpse of the hell that Los Angeles became for a while in 1991. The score is neither memorable nor useless - working well with the material but never standing out. Shelton as a director drops the ball with too many scenes going nowhere and an awkward sense of pacing, but when he gives Russell the screen time and concentration he deserves, the actor doesn't disappoint. Certainly worth checking out if only for Kurt's work - he hasn't been this good since the 80's.