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Movie Review

You can’t go home again, they say. Alicia West is learning that the hard way.

Alicia was a tough kid in a rough neighborhood: a New Orleans backwater filled with guns and drugs and a few good folks with barely a dollar to pocket. Most of her friends stayed right there, and she could’ve, too—winding up selling cigarettes at the corner store, cocaine on the sidewalk or herself in some sleazy hotel room.

Instead she joined the Army and got out—way out, serving two tours in Afghanistan. When Alicia came back to the States, she wasn’t done serving: She signed up to be a cop in her old hometown, working the same neighborhood she grew up in.

But things change when you put on a badge. In that predominantly black neighborhood, cops aren’t considered the good guys. Sure, the area’s myriad gang members and drug dealers have reason to run when a black-and-white police car rolls by. But even the law-abiding residents—used to cops who take donuts without paying and frisk without reason—treat the men and women in blue with suspicion and even outright hostility.

Alicia left the neighborhood. And when she came back, she was one of them. She didn’t just burn that bridge: She blew the thing up.

But maybe Alicia’s old friends have legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the police.

When Alicia volunteers for a double shift and rides along with Deacon Brown, a longtime vet, he drives them into a rundown part of the precinct, parks beside a deserted, graffitied warehouse. He tells Alicia to lock the doors, roll up the windows and wait in the car. But that’s not so easy in this part of New Orleans—not when someone tries to steal a parked car right in front of her.

Alicia gets out of the car and the would-be thief runs away. But before she can turn around, she hears gunshots from the abandoned warehouse—the warehouse where Jones was supposed to be meeting with an informant.

The officer draws her gun, turns on her bodycam and enters the warehouse. And then, when she cautiously climbs the steps to the second floor, she sees Brown with two plainclothes narcotics officers. Two dead bodies lie on the floor nearby, and a third man—a drug dealer, Alicia suspects—is pleading for his life.

Blam! One of the narcotics officers shoots the guy in the head, then fills the man’s body with more lead just to make sure.

Then one of the cops turns and spies Alicia.

More bullets fly—this time in Alicia’s direction. She falls backward and through the rotting floor, landing in a pile of garbage. She touches her side and feels it wet and warm. She gets up and starts running. Running for her life. Her bodycam holds proof of three dirty cops—and a murder—and she knows they’ll stop at nothing to get that cam and silence her.

You can’t go home again, they say. But if you try, you sure can die there.

Positive Elements

“Murder’s murder,” a scared, bleeding Alicia tells someone. “Don’t matter who you are.”

For most of us, that’s self-evident. But not for the crooked cops we see here. Those law-breaking law enforcers have done a lot to corrode trust in this corrupt corner of New Orleans. So when Alicia seeks help from her old neighbors—wearing her body armor and badge—it’s hard to find.

But she does find a reluctant helpmate in Milo “Mouse” Jackson. He’s plenty suspicious of the police, too. But he remembers Alicia from the old days, and slowly the two form a partnership of sorts. Together, they work to keep Alicia alive and desperately try to funnel the bodycam footage to the proper authorities.

And while plenty of the police we meet are as crooked as a nail hammered by a 5-year-old, or all-too-willing to turn a blind eye to what they see and hear, some ultimately make the right decision: protecting the rule of law over those who fail to protect that law.

Spiritual Content

We see churches in the background of some street scenes, and Mouse encourages Alicia to find sanctuary in one. (She doesn’t.) A drug dealer wears a necklace with a cross on it.

Sexual Content

Women sometimes wear formfitting tops and vaguely provocative outfits. Alicia takes off her shirt to tend to her gunshot wound, revealing a black camisole underneath. Kevin, Alicia’s regular police partner, begs off a double shift to spend (ahem) some “quality time” with his wife for their anniversary. (He takes a call from Alicia while in bed; his wife, off camera, is showering.) Someone asks if Alicia is sleeping with anyone. We may hear an allusion to prostitution.

Violent Content

The story really kicks off with the murder/execution of three young drug dealers, and things don’t get any more genteel from there.

The initial murder is shown at a distance, but we later see that corpse with an obvious bullet hole in the head. Alicia’s own wound is horrifically bloody: We see the gash and watch as she seals it with super glue—squeezing the edges of the skin together in a rather stomach-churning scene.

People get shot and killed, with sprays of blood splattering against walls and speckling furniture and floors. One man dies after having a gun pointed directly under his chin: The gun goes off and, judging from the corpse later, a good portion of his head vanished in the process. (We just see the body, head either missing or hidden by the man’s shoulders), lying in a pool of blood.) People are whacked with long pieces of metal and, in one case, a nail-filled chunk of wood. One man falls from a balcony after being shot. Two more fall from a couple stories up and land on a car.

Drug dealers tie up a man in a makeshift torture chamber and repeatedly punch him—trying to get him to talk. A guy is punched in the face by someone holding a gun: He bears the cuts and bruises throughout the rest of the movie. A woman also gets a fist to her face, leaving her mouth filled with blood. Someone uses a police shield as an offensive weapon, pressing against an assailant’s throat. Police point guns and rough up various “suspects” (though few are suspected of much of anything). One former “suspect” jostles and later punches a crooked cop, too. Police officers break up a fight: The instigator is pressed up against the wall by one cop, while another grabs someone who looked like he was about to attack the first officer.

Crude or Profane Language

About eight f-words are heard, and another one is inaudibly mouthed. We also hear nearly 30 s-words and loads of other profanities, including multiple uses of “a--,” “b--ch” “d--n,” “h---” and the n-word. (The word “b--tard” is also uttered once.) God’s name is paired with “d--n” four times, and Jesus’ name is abused at least a dozen more.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The plot revolves around a crooked alliance between drug dealers and crooked cops: We’re told that when those crooked officers make a bust, they pack away half the drugs as evidence, but then allow the other half to be distributed on the streets.

We hear quite a bit about the drug trade and occasionally see drug deals taking place in parking lots, but we don’t actually see any drugs. We see cigarette cartons and liquor bottles in the background of some scenes. Two glasses of champagne sit on a hotel-room nightstand.

Other Negative Elements

Obviously, the whole plot of Black and Blue revolves around police corruption and the breach of trust that corruption helps widen. We see plenty of terrible behavior by lots of folks—including a number who should be above reproach.

Conclusion

Does entertainment reflect society? Or does it influence it? Those are questions that have been around probably as long as entertainment itself, and the answer is always the same: yes.

We’ve seen a lot of headlines over the last several years chronicling police shootings and, many would say, overreach. Perhaps it’s only natural that we’ve seen tons of movies on the subject, too. Some try to deal with the issue with the zeal of a crusader—pushing the audience, it would seem, to push back. Others tackle it with nuance, trying to analyze the issue from multiple vantage points and acknowledging that it can be an awfully complex issue.

And then there are movies like Black and Blue—a popcorn-munching actioner with about as much nuance as a car alarm.

But here’s the funny thing: While lots of movies say, “Hey, people, there’s a problem here,” Black and Blue is one of the few that suggests a solution—or, at least, the seeds of one.

Alicia West is a cop who loves the people she serves, even if they don’t love her. She loves the law, even if some of her fellow officers don’t agree. And as the movie progresses, her work takes on greater significance: It’s not just about bringing a handful of crooked cops to justice, but restoring a little faith and hope in the system itself. And how is that done? By making the right decisions—not the easy decisions, or the lucrative ones, but the ones that should be made, both for the health of the department and to honor the community it serves. And even though the movie itself tells us that Alicia’s decisions might not change anything immediately, she insists that it’s an honorable start. And she’s right. Those right decisions eventually add up, just like the wrong ones do.

You don’t need to be a cop to see the takeaway value in that for our own lives, too.

But does that make Black and Blue a valuable movie itself? It’s harder to argue that. While the surprisingly earnest message here is refreshing, it’s still submerged in a stew of violence and profanity and pretty predictable plotting. And with its R-rated content, Black and Blue may indeed leave many a viewer feeling bruised.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Naomie Harris as Alicia West; Tyrese Gibson as Milo "Mouse" Jackson; Frank Grillo as Terry Malone; Mike Colter as Darius; Reid Scott as Kevin; Beau Knapp as terrible cop; Nafessa Williams as Missy; James Moses Black as Deacon Brown; Frankie Smith as Tez

Director

Deon Taylor ( )

Distributor

Sony Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

October 25, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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