by DAN LYBARGER  | October 26, 2019

Originally Published at: https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32939&reviewer=382

As he matures, producer-director Deon Taylor is slowly learning that storytelling can be a lot more suspenseful than borrowing jump scares from other movies.

In his previous thriller The Intruder, Taylor practically broadcast the dangers to come so it wasn’t shocking that Dennis Quaid wasn’t an ideal neighbor.

This time around, Taylor has more to work with than a capable actor handling the heavy. With Black and Blue, he’s got a great setup, an ideal setting and two leads who manage to make even the most eye-rolling sequences credible. Fresh from her Oscar-nomination in Moonlight, British actress Naomie Harris effortlessly plays Alicia West, a rookie copy whose devotion to the letter of the law gets in the way of her ability to enforce it.

After having returned from two tours of duty in Afghanistan, patrolling the streets of New Orleans might have seemed relatively easy.

It isn’t.

Unless a cop is in danger, his or her fellow officers won’t answer calls in sections of the Ninth Ward. People who knew her before she left town won’t talk to her because she’s part of the Crescent City’s finest, and white officers stop her for jogging in her own neighborhood. When they find out she’s as blue as they are, the apologies ring hollow.

Alicia’s situation goes from uncomfortable to life threatening when she signs up for an extra shift. Her more experienced partner (James Moses Black) resents her second guessing him and thinks her insistence on wearing her body camera is more irritating than responsible. When a perp that he roughs up turns out to be armed, she wonders if she might be approaching the job incorrectly.

Those doubts disappear when she discovers two fearsome looking narcs (Frank Grillo and Nelson Bonilla) gunning down two unarmed teenagers. The images her camera captures could either save her life or get her killed. Unfortunately, her precinct is swarming with dirty cops who all want her dead, and one of the teens is the nephew of an unforgiving gangster named Darius (Mike Colter)

The only person in the Ninth Ward who’s willing to help her is a store clerk named Milo “Mouse” Jackson (Tyrese Gibson). As the name implies, he keeps to himself and doesn’t say much, but he can be brave when the situation requires it.

Similarly, it’s a pleasure to see Gibson being asked to play something other than sullen. Taylor and screenwriter Peter A. Dowling (another Brit) ask him to be emotionally wounded or scared, and he handles both beautifully. While it’s a given that Harris can handle her role, Gibson manages to hold his own nicely.

As Taylor depicts it, the Ninth Ward is violent and physically shabby, but its residents have a commendable resolve the ruined buildings can’t extinguish. As a result, one can see why Alicia would want to protect and serve them even if they are consistently antagonistic to her. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. ConfidentialThe Last of the Mohicans) effortlessly captures the decay of the trouble neighborhood without making it look like a complete wasteland.

Because having both the PDNO and the mob chasing after Alicia is naturally frightening, a more subtle hand might have been helpful. At this level of danger, you don’t have to work too hard to make racist homicidal narcs scary.

Taylor and Dowling seem eager to please the audience, maybe a little too eager. Some of the surprises aren’t terribly surprising because the filmmakers hint they’re coming. Harris and Gibson are already easy to cheer for. We don’t need any reminders.


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Dan Lybarger is a freelance film critic and writer whose work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cineaste and other publications.