Friday, April 08, 2016

colors [1988]

this was the rage in the late '80s, gangsta rap, violent city streets, gangbangin' til you die from a bullet in the head.  ice-t even had a hit song from this movie, remember?  i sure as shit do.  robert duvall is a veteran cop with the l.a. p.d partnered with a brash young rookie played by sean penn.  they clash as they navigate the gang-infested city.

i'd forgotten this flick was directed by dennis hopper.  the direction is sort of, um, slow.  in fact, hopper's vision is pretty flat.  the action sequences are okay.  and they are small parts played by all kinds of people you'd still recognize today.  oh, the soundtrack is that shiny plastic synth beat quite common in movies from the 1980s.

i ask myself is this movie good?  hopper achieves a gritty gravitas at the end as the story arced toward tragedy.  yet i can't help but scoff at solemnity of the filmmaker.  because, on balance, this is an exploitation movie capitalizing on society's fear of black and brown gangsters who, in this universe, seem to be everywhere.  no where to hide or avoid.

l.a. is a pretty gritty place.  it is also an extraordinary city, and the people who live and work there are like people everywhere.  good, bad, outstanding, ordinary and so on.  more so and more complicated than this pablum.

and yet here's the thing.  i remember reading an essay by the late poet larry levis about a visit made by the polish poet zbigniew herbert to l.a.  levis was tasked to chauffeur herbert hither and yon and provide companionship for the visiting poet as he made his rounds here and there.  while on the famously choked freeways of l.a. levis asked herbert what he thought of the city.  herbert replied, burn it.

pretty harsh summation by a great 20th century poet on a remarkable u.s. city.  as for this movie it would have been better to have written a script about the complications made by gang life, the hows and whys of joining a gang, and the necessities, hows and whys of fighting those gangs by law enforcement and shoot that movie.  sometimes movies are life and sometimes they are reflections of life.  this flick is a reflection of a reflection.  entertaining in parts, excruciatingly bad in others.  an interesting failure.


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