Ron Shelton's new film "Dark Blue" was written by David Ayer, who also wrote "Training Day," and is in some ways a reworking of that film. It stars Kurt Russell as the swaggering L.A. police sergeant Eldon Perry, with his young partner and acolyte Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) following him through an increasingly immoral and illegal police world during the week when the Rodney King jury out in Simi Valley was debating whether or not to convict the police who beat him (if you've forgotten, they were acquitted).
This film is much more intense than "Training Day," and tries with only intermittent success to balance three stories that bounce off each other. The first is Eldon's, a brilliant, alcoholic, thoroughly corrupted detective in thrall to his boss, Captain Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), who uses everything from bribery to blackmail to murder to control his people. Eldon is the third generation in a corrupt-cop family, who does Van Meter's dirty work on his way to getting his lieutenant's badge, and makes sure that Bobby will be sucked into the maelstrom along with him.
The second story is of Deputy Police Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), absolutely uncorruptible and hoping to become Los Angeles's first black police chief, and the sworn enemy of Van Meter and his crew. The third, and it is not successful in the film, is the suspense of the jury deliberations (they were out for five days). But inexplicably for the drama, the film opens with the announcement that the jury is coming in with their verdict, and the film is told in flashback after that.
The film is much better directed than "Training Day," which fell back on Denzel Washington's charisma for whatever tension it possessed; and it is lucky in its choice of Kurt Russell as the lead. Russell gives a breathtaking performance that is funny, arrogant, intensely physical with the threat of murder behind every confrontation, and yet with enough introspection to pull us into caring about him. There is a crucial moment in the film when he comes home to find his wife Sally (Lolita Davidovitch) emptying the house of its furnishings in order to leave him. We expect a violent reaction from Eldon, but instead he takes a breath and quietly says, "Put it back; I'll leave instead."
We see the film's triggering event early on: two men, one black and one white, drive up to a Korean mini-mart in South Central, put on masks, go in and kill the clerk. One goes upstairs to take out a wall safe while his partner simply shoots everyone who comes into the store. The search for the criminals, deliberately misdirected by Van Meter, is the thread that pulls all the stories together, and leads to both tragedy and redemption, with Russell handling an impossibly, laughably overwrought final speech with panache and wit, by playing against the language itself.
The film was very well shot by Barry Peterson, whose only prior film credit was "Zoolander," and edited for tension by Shelton's longtime editor Paul Seydor. Everything works until the very last shot of the film - one of the worst process shots I've ever seen, as the survivors look out over a kind of painting of Los Angeles while black smoke rises from the city and the riots start. It looks like Van Meter's revenge on the good guys.