In some warped families, one sibling gets all the love and attention, while the other is shunned like an ungainly embarrassment. That's Dark Blue's relationship to Training Day. Both were penned by the same writer, David Ayer, but Dark Blue was shot before that 2001 Oscar winner and sat on the shelf while the studio pondered whether to bury it. This gritty portrayal of deep-rooted police corruption won't snag a Golden Baldie for its star; nor will it stoke up its director's career as a hot property. Yet, in most respects, Blue is the superior movie.
Opening with that infamous shaky-cam footage of white cops beating seven bells out of black motorist Rodney King, and set in the days leading up to the 1992 LA riots, Dark Blue instantly creates an oppressive, ominous mood of Los Angeles as racial tinderbox. Into this grimy hothouse swaggers third-generation LAPD sergeant Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell), whose shoot-first-don't-bother-asking-questions-later brand of street justice is legend. He's joined by his nice-but-dim rookie partner, Bobby (Scott Speedman).
Their assignment to a cold-blooded quadruple slaying sparks off a violent chain of events that sucks in everyone around them, including their tyrannical commander, Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson). Meanwhile, the only clean cop on show, Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (a subdued Ving Rhames), determines to expose the fraudulence and bring down all three men.
Dark Blue squats on turf that's been strip-mined for cinematic riches. But where it avoids the oh-god-not-another-one pitfall is in the intricate, shifting-sands pull of its James Ellroy-conceived storyline; David Ayer's ear for spiky, authentic dialogue; and director Ron Shelton's understanding of macho posturing (thanks to all those years spent peeking into the lives of gym-dwellers - see Bull Durham, Cobb, Play It To The Bone).
The ace in the hole, however, is Kurt Russell. With clunkers such as Soldier and 3000 Miles To Graceland on his recent CV, he looked in danger of being sectioned off to the Sly Stallone Home For Tinseltown Dead-Ducks. Not any more: Russell's staggeringly good as a borderline-psychopath who pepper sprays suspects to get them talking, fabricates evidence before he's even committed the crime, and generally acts as a poster boy for the sinister side of law enforcement. It's a fearless performance, Mr Hawn not even bothering to sugarcoat Eldon's loathsome tendencies.
Less riveting is Speedman, who fails to spark off Russell with the same flair that Ethan Hawke did with Denzel, and comes off as too weak-willed to run any interference on his partner's dirty deeds. Dark Blue also stumbles in the final stretch, tossing in a couple of groaning plot contrivances. But these are minor quibbles that can't stop Shelton's movie from being a superb addition to the dirty cop genre. Hopefully it'll get the respect - and audience - it deserves.