Black and Blue Hits Hard With Drama and Tension

 

When an ex-vet turned cop has a life or death decision to make, she must choose between Black and Blue.

Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is a rookie cop in New Orleans, ready to make a difference after her military career in Afghanistan. She is hopeful and eager to pull her weight, so when she takes an extra shift she gets more than she bargained for. Instead of a long overnight haul with crotchety veteran cop Brown (James Moses Black), she narrowly misses botching up an arrest and annoys Brown, who makes an unusual stop at an abandoned warehouse. Left on her own, she hears gunshots and when she investigates, witnesses the murder of a local drug dealer by a gaggle of dirty cops including Brown, the shooter being narc detective Malone (Frank Grillo). Alicia’s body cam has recorded the whole incident, and she becomes a target for the crooked cops. With the impoverished neighbourhood suspicious of the police, and only a reluctant old friend Mouse (Tyrese Gibson) to help her, she must keep herself alive and get the recording to the right authorities. 

Alicia (Harris) and Mouse (Gibson) on the move.

Black and Blue was better than I expected. It followed the typical suspense crime thriller formula, but it had a really interesting horror bent that reminded me of classics like Candyman. Call me crazy, but there were so many familiar camera angles and beats punctuated by Geoff Zanelli’s heavy, overwhelming score the horror influence was hard to miss, and it worked. Considering the director Deon Taylor has made a few horror films plus the recent thriller The Intruder with Dennis Quaid and Megan Goode, this isn’t a surprise. With life in a forgotten neighborhood ravaged by Katrina and never repaired, and people living in rundown buildings without the intervention of law enforcement, everyday terror was driven home with a jackhammer at times, but the point was well taken. 


Writer Peter A. Dowling, who has a history in the horror genre as well, was somewhat heavy-handed with the script at times and I normally don’t give much leeway to a white writer creating characters of color, but he was clever with his choice for a protagonist. Race relations these days is most certainly a hot button topic and will most certainly incite passionate debate about where law enforcement stands with Black people. Too many have died because of an abuse of power, and to be a black person, a black woman for that matter, who makes the choice to be a police officer carries a heavy burden. Harris seemed to played Alicia with this in mind, emphasizing West’s rookie status by being both hopeful and leery at the same time. Gibson was impressive as the stoic Mouse who just wanted to get by and avoid the drama of drugs and police brutality. The emotion he showed was touching and poignant. I can’t forget Frank Grillo’s snarling rendition of a dirty cop which was what this movie called for; a culmination of what people fear in an authority figure abusing their position.
Although some may find Black and Blue to be a touch melodramatic, you can’t deny the social commentary with excellent performances from Gibson and Harris. It might not change the world, but like Alicia says, it’s a start, and one to a conversation that’s long overdue.

Black and Blue opens October 25.

See You Yesterday Taps Into Sci-Fi and the Black Lives Reality

Netflix does it again by taking a chance on representation. In the tradition of classic TV series like Sliders and Quantum Leap, Stefon Bristol’s first feature film See You Yesterday combines time travel, mistaken identity and black family bonds for a strong sci-fi debut.

CJ (Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Crichlow) trying to figure out time jumping.

CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) is a brilliant Brooklyn high school student and along with her best friend Sebastian (Dante Crichlow), devises a time travelling, or temporal relocation, machine. After a few technical glitches, they successfully jump to the day before. When her brother Calvin (Astro aka Brian Bradley) gets killed by police due to mistaken identity, CJ thinks she can change his destiny by jumping back in time to save his life.  

Expanding on his short film of the same name, Bristol gets major points for giving us a black female protagonist who is determined, ambitious, intelligent and extremely likable, as well as a heartwarming take on the West Indian community in Flatbush, a loving brother and sister relationship, and a single mother family that lost their father while he was in the army, not by any crime. He shows us everyday life in Brooklyn for black folks, from visiting the neighborhood bodega to being harassed by the police.  The characters seem real with Duncan-Smith, Crichlow and Bradley showing an easy chemistry that transitions from light banter to intense discussions well. Bristol was an intern for Spike Lee, who also produced the film, and you can see Lee’s influence in an homage to his “double dolly shot” and the social commentary narrative, but Bristol has created his own vision of young black Brooklynites in jeopardy.

There will be obvious comparisons to Jordan Peele’s recent Twilight Zone episode, “Replay”, starring Sanaa Lathan. Here, she plays a mother who wants to document her son’s arrival at college with her vintage camcorder only to realize she can rewind the device to go back in time and save him when a racist cop guns him down. Both stories deal with the daily fears of black people being pulled over, interrogated and killed because of the color of their skin. Both deal with strong women who refuse to take the fate doled out to so many innocent black men in this time of protest, but where Peele made an effort to show blacks conquering, Bristol aims for a sobering and open-ended resolution.

The look and feel of the film is deceiving. The wardrobe is hip and young, representing a DIY style of kids on a budget.  A squeal-inducing cameo by one of the original time travellers Michael J. Fox as CJ’s science teacher Mr. Lockhart, the bright, summery cinematography, and strong, witty language seems like a formula for fun, but Bristol has made a teen sci-fi film for this new age of awareness.  This lightheartedness changes tone abruptly to mirror life when you first realize your world isn’t impervious to the outside terrors of violence. Even though this film is speculative and fiction, for those of us who have lost someone when we are young or naïve, it’s a reality. This may not please a lot of people because the film also ends abruptly, but it’s all too real because in this current climate, there aren’t a lot of black families who get their happy ending.

CJ racing against time.

See You Yesterday is streaming now, so do yourself a favor and see it for a perfect representation of how black people continue to create their own narrative. It gives us a wonderful black female character, the message of both despair and hope, and a story that could easily be continued as a popular Netflix series.