Deon Taylor has recently directed thrillers, including Traffik (2018) and The Intruder (2019). Both were films centered on black women on the run from home invaders. Both films end with the black women becoming empowered to fight back against the invaders or bad guys. This film is not that far flung. It starts off with the black woman already empowered to some degree. It makes her a police officer and puts this police woman in the line of fire, testing how a lone police woman in hostile territory escapes or survives her dangerous situation. Of all three of these films, this one is by far the best that Taylor has done.
Ever since the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, there has been increased attention on the relationship between the police and the African-American community, which some would describe as a contentious relationship or a tense relationship to say the least. Given the title of this film, it seems as if it’s going to comment on the Black Lives Matter movement, which arguably it does but not in the way that the movement regards. Black Lives Matter has been about police officers shooting unarmed black people, but those shootings wouldn’t be described as necessarily premeditated or first-degree murder. Black Lives Matter cases would involve at most second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter or what cops would argue as justifiable homicide. None of those things are at issue in this film, written by Peter A. Dowling. What’s at issue is a clear example of first-degree murder.
Naomie Harris (Moonlight and Skyfall) stars as Alicia West, a former soldier in the military who is now working her first year as a rookie police officer in the New Orleans Police Department. She was born in the Big Easy and was specifically from the 9th Ward, the area famous for being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She left to go on tour in the military not that long after and she has been gone for over 10 years. She’s now finally back and patrolling the streets upon which she grew up. It’s weird for her because she’s recognizing people she hasn’t seen in years but because of the uniform she wears, those people see her as an outsider. There’s tension there as a result.
When her partner takes a personal day, she’s assigned to another veteran cop. She tags along with him. He drives her to a warehouse somewhere deep in the 9th Ward. She’s told to wait in the patrol car. When she hears gun shots, she goes inside the warehouse. She then sees a narcotics cop execute an unarmed black man. As mentioned, it’s not second-degree murder or justifiable homicide. It is in fact an execution. Alicia’s body camera was turned on, so she captures the first-degree murder on video. The narcotics cops see her and go after her, trying to kill her and get the body camera back. The rest of the film becomes about Alicia attempting to flee, as well as doing what she can to expose these corrupt cops and bring them to justice.
It’s then that the film becomes like so many films or TV shows about corrupt cops of which there are many. It has its thrilling moments, but arguably isn’t better or as enlightening as films like Serpico (1973), Cop Land (1997) or Training Day (2001). Certain white cops and white people in general here are simply meant to be racist, selfish or opportunistic. With the possible exception of Kevin Jennings, played by Reid Scott (Veep and The Big C), there isn’t much depth to these corrupt cops, not the kind of depth seen in shows like The Shield (2002) or Shades of Blue (2016).
The shows or even aforementioned films don’t have an African-American cop at its center, dealing with the kind of racism at play. Nor do they have a black woman at its center. Shows like The Shield had those things on the periphery but never as its center. This one does. This film even begins as other recent films addressing the Black Lives Matter issue directly like Cory Bowles’ Black Cop (2018) or Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Monsters and Men (2018). We see the scene of the black person being stopped by white cops who act aggressively toward that black person. They change their tunes when they realize the black person is a cop too.
The film never really goes deeper than that scene. It reduces the whole issue down to “us versus them.” Monsters and Men provided perspectives that made the situation feel three-dimensional. Here, things come across as incredibly flat. Taylor’s film then simply becomes a video game or any kind of sport where it’s just about getting the ball to some place on the court or field. In this case, the ball is the body camera footage. As just an adrenaline rush in that regard, the film moves along fairly well.
I did appreciate the moments that director Taylor took to let his actors here shine. Tyrese Gibson (The Fate of the Furious and Transformers) co-stars as Milo Jackson aka Mouse. He’s the owner or manager of a convenience store in the 9th Ward. He’s also a former friend of Alicia who gets pulled into the action here. He has an interaction with police that underscores the fear and the dehumanization that many in the black community feel as a result of contact with police. He got a real poignant moment to express those emotions and it was touching.
Nafessa Williams (Black Lightning and Twin Peaks) plays Missy, the girlfriend of a local drug dealer. She gets to express what it’s like for certain black folks who feel trapped in ghetto areas and have to be tough to survive. Mike Colter (Luke Cage and The Good Wife) also co-stars as Darius, the aforementioned drug dealer who is a big presence in the 9th Ward. His character is a criminal, but he does get a moment to redeem himself, as well as express being a loving father-figure and protector of young black men who are more afraid of the cops than they are the drug dealers. He’s emblematic of the weird contradiction.
Rated R for violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 48 mins.