Dark Blue Blu-ray Review
Kurt Russell's Training Day
Released just that little bit too late, Ron Shelton's Dark Blue was overshadowed by the larger-than-life Training Day and the more gritty Narc but remains a great little Kurt Russell cop drama.With Denzel Washington roaring in Training Day in 2001, and Joe Carnahan's electric Narc bringing Ray Liotta out of the gutter in 2002, another corrupt cop drama just a few months later was always going to struggle, whatever the pedigree. Shelton's sports background gave him insight for his greatest successes as a writer/director (Bill Durham), and he also tackled racial interplay in the surprisingly smart White Men Can't Jump but failed at the only other cop drama (admittedly more a comedy) he undertook, Hollywood Homicide. 2002's Dark Blue was an efficient study in police corruption, cleverly set on the eve of the incendiary verdict from the Rodney King trials (the narrative has remarkable parallels to Katherine Bigelow's Strange Days) and benefitting greatly from James "L.A. Confidential" Ellroy's story adapted by Ellroy and Training Day's own David Ayer, making this the only film the director helmed which he didn't also write.It also celebrated a return to form for Kurt Russell, who had struggled with a few lower key pieces in the late 90s, including Unlawful Entry and the underrated gem Breakdown, with the fun Universal Soldier-esque near-straight-to-DVD flop Soldier showing how far his star had fallen. With Dark Blue, however, Russell got some real meat to sink his teeth into, enjoying a prime multi-faceted part and some of his best work not just in years but potentially in his entire career (again, though, overshadowed by the similar juicy corrupt cop roles afforded to Denzel Washington and Ray Liotta). With powerhouse support from the likes of Ving Rhames and Brendan Gleeson, the tense thriller - in hindsight - happily sits alongside the more emotionally charged Internal Affairs, or both Training Day and Narc, and arguably even bests them all as a study of the complexities of police corruption, and remains an underrated drama that simply came at the wrong time.
Picture QualityArrow's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release of Dark Blue delivers the film with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Although there's no press about any remaster work done for this release, it wouldn't come as a surprise to find the film has been afforded a new 2K remaster, as the image is oftentimes rather impressive. Of course the US release, almost a decade back, was no slouch, but Arrow's release has a nicely clear-and-clean-but-still-textured look commensurate to some of Arrow's recent 2K and 4K remasters.
Dark Blue has never looked better.
Detail on some shots really is excellent, from the opening close-ups on Russell's worn visage to the latter face-shots which reveal skin texture, hair detail and a warm and organic clarity that would attract a clear statement that the film simply could not look any better. However it's not universally consistent in this regard, with a few fleeting signs of over-sharpening perhaps giving the impression that, in the quest to provide a precise, crystal clear vision of this 16 year old, shot-on-film, and relatively low budget feature, somebody was a smidge over-zealous in the digital clean-up department. It's a relatively minor niggle, though, often reserved to only a few indoor shots, whilst the outdoor sequences look excellent whether day or night (the helicopter spotlight-lit shooting looks fabulously bathed in shadows and light).
The colour scheme is warm and rich, eschewing conventional high grading to provide a more natural look, whilst black levels remain deep and solid and a suitably layer of fine - and consistent - grain affords the image an organic texture. Dark Blue has never looked better.
Sound QualityA great audio presentation.
The accompanying DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track also delivers the goods with aplomb, generating a rich and oftentimes engulfing atmosphere that reaches a new level when the film hits boiling point during the final act. Dialogue gets decent enough prioritisation across the frontal array, although there's a slight imbalance with the moody period score that clearly gets the best presentation across the array. Effects deliver thunderous gunshots, often booming shotguns with a few Uzis and hand-cannons thrown in for good measure, perforating your living room as helicopters whip overhead and - in the final act - the streets become a veritable war zone. Broken glass, fires, screeching tyres and smashing cars bring the chaos to life, crafting a superbly tense finale that puts your right in the maelstrom. It's a great audio presentation to cap off the video, offering up the release as the best the film has ever looked or sounded.
NB. It should be noted that there was a hint of lip-sync detected (particularly evident in Brendan Gleeson's dialogue during the film's final scenes) which may well be limited to the PR disc supplied, but would otherwise require some kind of replacement programme on the part of Arrow.
ExtrasArrow's package includes a hearty selection of mostly archival features, headlined by a strong Audio Commentary from director Ron Shelton which looks at his work with Ellroy's source material, the performances and the incendiary setting.
A hearty selection of features.
The archival documentary Code Blue offers up interviews with Shelton, Russell and Rhames, as well as screenwriter David Ayer, and is accompanied by a couple of solid archival featurettes in By the Book, which looks at the style of the film, and Necessary Force which investigates the research done into the portrayal of police during this era. The disc is rounded off by a quartet of Interviews with the main cast members and the Director, again recorded around its release, as well as some Trailers and TV Spots.
Blu-ray VerdictA great package.
Overshadowed by the powerhouse Training Day, and the gritty Narc, Ron Shelton's Dark Blue is an underrated little corrupt cop drama enriched by the volatile racial tension afforded by its Rodney King murder backdrop.
Arrow's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release affords the 2002 film excellent video and audio - the best that it has ever looked or sounded - as well as a nice selection of extra features. Fans of Russell should check out one of his best performances, and fans of the genre shouldn't hesitate in picking it up. It's a great package.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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