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.

Get Out: Terror, Tension, and Race in the Modern Horror

The buzz has been on about Get Out since late last year when it was announced that Jordan Peele, award-winning comedian and actor know for the hit comedy series Mad TV and co-creator of Key and Peele, had written and directed his first film, and not only was it a horror, but it carried a message . The hype machine ran rampant with accolades as usual, but this time, it was right. He’s made an excellent horror film that illustrates an everyday fear and paranoia once thought to be exaggerated by most, but now (one would hope) most likely understood by all in today’s politically and racially charged world.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young photographer preparing to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). They plan to visit her parents out of town, and Chris is concerned because Rose, and her family, are white, and he is black. When she reassures him that her parents will happily accept him into the fold, they head up her family estate. After a jarring experience hitting a deer and dealing with suspicious local police, Chris attempts to keep his cool as he is interrogated by Rose’s parents Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) and her strange brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). Things get even more awkward when a yearly party with their old school family friends conveniently takes place during their weekend visit.

Chris feels not only alienated and scrutinized during his time with Rose, her family, and their white friends, but also that something isn’t quite right. When his interactions with the extremely odd black house staff Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and a black guest (Lakeith Stanfield) at the party go south, his “spidey” senses tell him all isn’t as it seems at the Armitage gathering.

Get Out bridges horror with a mixture of Hitchcock-style suspense and Twilight Zone weirdness, nailing the daily horrors of being a person of colour navigating a systemically racist society at large. The social commentary was so well done that everyone person of colour can nod their heads as they relate to the micro aggressions in the film that are dealt with daily, in fact, there are many themes I want to touch on, but I’ll try to make each observation brief.

A young African-American man, an anti-everyman who is both feared and envied, as the vessel to convey the current social climate was bold, brilliant and well needed. Not since Night of the Living Dead’s Ben (Duane Jones) and that film’s supposed accidental social commentary during the Civil Rights era have we seen such a memorable character. Chris embodies the aspirations of every young Black man and woman who just wants to live unafraid and with all the same opportunities afforded to everyone else in the country touted as “the land of the free”. It’s a heavy load to bear, but Kaluuya plays the character to a “T”. I first saw him as a teenager in a British series called The Fades, where he played the best friend of a boy who had supernatural powers. Kaluuya was hysterically funny then, and his humour has matured with his portrayal of Chris that dripped with irony, while capturing the sincerity and sensitivity of a young man at odds with his acceptance in a literal and figurative sense. I also thought it was clever to make Chris a photographer as we see through his literal lens and point of view. Chris’s friend Rod (LilRey Howery) creates comic relief not to be missed as he personifies Chris’s inner voice telling it like it is. He’s a throwback to the “Black person in a horror film” joke. I was also thrilled to see Erika Alexander from the 90’s sitcom Living Single as the detective Rod tries to enlist for help.

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris

I thoroughly enjoyed the Armitages as well. Keener and Whitford played the slightly off liberal parents with a subversive finesse, bringing to light Peele’s skill at writing them with a complexity that is not often expressed properly. Here, they represented the ingrained ignorance of whites as they assert their supremacy over people of colour without any thought to the person in front of them. It’s a brilliant display of how intent is often masked with a cloak of inclusivity, but only on their terms. While a generalization of White society, it also embodies how Blacks, and people of colour in general, have to pick our battles daily while struggling to keep and define our identities at the same time.

Peele’s use of an interracial relationship as the vehicle for his premise is a no-brainer. Where else can you question your place in society than with two people taking a chance and presenting themselves in the world as they defy archaic social norms? It plays on the paranoia, defensiveness and potentially hidden agendas for those involved in interracial relationships.

Chris and Rose

Lastly, the film is visually simple and clean, with nice camerawork and set design that stood out as effective signifiers of old money and privilege. He also treated Chris’s loss of control with dream-like sequences that were some of my favourite scenes and reminded me of the underrated Under the Skin.

Jordan Peele succeeds in giving us a smart, well-written thriller/horror filled with a great balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and a viscerally intense uneasiness. Without giving away spoilers, he captures the need for the incessant and historic commodification, exploitation and abuse of African-American lives (literally and figuratively) with no consequence felt by those exploiters in this supposedly “post-racial” world. See Get Out and discuss how it makes you feel with everyone you can. Perhaps a film created in a genre that is not usually accepted about a historically ostracized/demonized/shunned yet culturally mined people can open the doors to some sort of social justice, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the face of mainstream horror (and film at large) change.

(Previously published on Rosemary’s Pixie)