Charles Burnett (director)
BFI Film (studio)
23 January 2017 (released)
27 January 2017
Loosely based on true events, this tough-as-nails drama deals with racial tensions and corruption among the American justice system – in this case it’s black rookie cop J.J. Johnson who gets a rough awakening when he comes to realize that almost all of his white colleagues have race-related issues (and misogynistic ones too), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
The film starts with images from a comic strip, all divided in panels and the good police fighting the evil villains. Rookie cop J.J. Johnson (Michael Boatman) is fresh from the academy and fancies himself as exactly one of those heroic super-cops as depicted in the comic strip, in short, he’s filled with mighty ambition, a huge sense of justice… and heaps of naivety! Soon though he has the swallow the first lesson which is that his superior seems to like to pick on him not only for being to lenient (in the case of a black female who he let off for a minor driving offence only for his white colleague to present her with a ticket) but he’s also picked on for his apparent misspellings of words and so forth. His only female colleague, also a rookie cop named Deputy Deborah Fields (Lori Petty) is subjected to the usual bouts of patronising sexism and is being told off for wearing a perfume apparently way to too strong. Although Johnson and Fields initially don’t get on that great they soon struck up a genuine camaraderie and alliance when it emerges that petty criminal Teddy Woods (Ice Cube) is ‘conveniently’ being framed for the murder of the wife of Greenspan (Elliott Gould), a citizen as corrupt as the LA police department that Johnson’s dealing with. Yep, Woods had a gun in his possession upon his arrest and some ‘duds’ high up in the justice position, including Detective Gene Baker (Michael Ironside) do their foremost to convince the jury of Woods guilt… even Johnson is made to state something under oath which he later regrets. But when Greenspans’ dead body is discovered and Johnson and Fields get the impression that their colleagues from the Department try very hard to silence them… things soon spin out of control and leave Johnson and Fields in mortal danger.
This drama is rather complex and the leads – especially Michael Boatman, Lori Petty and Michael Ironside are worth their sweat! The downside is that Ice Tea, who features prominently on the sleeve artwork, is only in a few scenes and with minimal dialogue at that, thus given the false impression that he might be the star of this movie. And yes, we know pretty darn quick who the crooked and corrupt bastards within the police force are, much sooner in fact than our idealistic hero Deputy J.J. Johnson finds out. The film furthermore offers an alternative ending and some additionally added info that the real-life police characters this story is based upon were in fact re-installed in other police departments after the scandal of their corrupt behaviour had transpired. Hard to believe but perhaps not all that surprising! If brown was the colour of German Nazism and red the colour of Communism, then blue has got to be the colour of police corruption…