Rating: (2 stars)
Not long into the movie “Black and Blue,” an idealistic police rookie from New Orleans’s Ninth Ward witnesses the summary execution of three black civilian informants by her fellow cops. Immediately — and clearly — the battle lines are drawn: between those who wear the uniform and the members of the largely African American community they serve.
There is already a fault line there, underscored by the film’s title and re-articulated in the film’s prologue, a scene in which Alicia West (Naomie Harris), a new patrol officer just back from two tours in Afghanistan, is detained by white policemen for the “crime” of jogging while black. Subsequent scenes reinforce the long-standing mistrust between two factions: cop and community. When you put on the uniform, a more senior black cop tells Alicia, “You’re one of us” — meaning blue trumps black.
But should it?
It’s not a bad question from this meat-and-potatoes thriller, and it’s sharply and effectively posed by filmmaker Deon Taylor (“The Intruder”), directing Peter A. Dowling’s otherwise workaday script. Alicia — who has been shot by one of her murderous colleagues (Beau Knapp) because she is wearing a body camera — does not hesitate to make her decision about what to do with the footage. “I’m going to get it into evidence and expose them,” she bluntly tells her friend Mouse (Tyrese Gibson), her only ally, seemingly, in all of New Orleans, as she hides out from her pursuers and field-dresses her wound.
The cops have blamed the killing, whose victims include a relative of a drug dealer (Mike Colter), on Alicia. Suddenly the city is as dangerous for her as Kandahar.
The film, for the most part, is suspenseful, as Alicia is forced to run a gantlet of corrupt — or merely misinformed — cops, criminals out for vengeance and citizens who are sick and tired of police harassment. The action is sufficiently gripping, even if the drama plays out along predictably violent lines. Frank Grillo, as the baddest of bad cops, makes for a fairly cardboard villain. But nearly everyone in the film seems, at one point, to be gunning for Alicia.
Much of what makes “Black and Blue” watchable is Harris’s compassionate — and passionate — performance, and the rapport her character develops with the more stoic Mouse.
Yet things like character and moral debate are secondary to action heroics, as Alicia never wavers in her sense of right-and-wrong. There are a couple of characters whose motives and choices will keep you guessing about what role they’ll end up playing in this drama — including Alicia’s childhood friend (Nafessa Williams) and her police partner (Reid Scott) — but “Black and Blue” is, by and large, a pretty black-and-white affair.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. It’s nice to see a crime thriller, every once in a while, with a message. It’s one of unity. After all, the film isn’t called “Black or Blue.”
R. At area theaters. Contains violence and strong language. 108 minutes.