The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - <i>COLORS (1988)</i> | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - COLORS (1988)

Dennis Hopper's LA cop drama, on Blu-Ray from Second Sight.

Review by Jason Abbey (@abbeyjason)

Directed by: Dennis Hopper

Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks, Grand L. Bush, Don Cheadle



"Colors is disappointingly timeless; with the US having more people in jail than China, and with the vast majority of the prison population non-white, this film could have been made last week. The feather cuts, boom boxes and interesting dance moves may however need some explaining."


At the vanguard of a wave of '90s gang films dealing with the emergent gang culture in LA and the rise of crack use in the inner cities, Dennis Hopper’s Colors is reassuringly old fashioned, like a gangland western with the cops as cowboys and the gang-bangers depicted with all the nuance of an Apache war chief in a '50s John Wayne oater. Hell, in Frog (Trinidad Silva) you even have the noble wise old Indian reinvented as the veteran hombre gang elder.
It is also disappointingly timeless; with the US having more people in jail than China, and with the vast majority of the prison population non-white, this film could have been made last week. The feather cuts, boom boxes and interesting dance moves may however need some explaining.
Whereas the work of Spike Lee, John Singleton and Charles Burnett are films rightly concerned with the experience of African American lives and the pressures of inner city living, Hopper tells his tale through white eyes. This is a film more about being a cop in the hood and therefore shares more in common with the likes of End of Watch than Boyz 'N the Hood and Do the Right Thing. Like Mississippi Burning, it takes an idea that should be searing in its anger but is diluted by showing the story through the eyes of its white characters. The question is where do your sympathies lie, with an inner city cop who, however dangerous the day job is, can go back home to a suburban neighbourhood at the end of the shift, or the people whose day to day lives are ones of hopelessness. That the two cops are Robert Duvall and Sean Penn is always going to make it watchable but does it suffer from a form of moral negligence?
Rookie Danny (Penn) is the typical cocksure newbie who thinks he has the run of things and is exasperated when partnered with seasoned veteran Bob Hodges (Duvall). Danny is a vain egotistical bully with a hair combing fetish, Penn, in one of his more mannered performances, is both deeply exasperating and also struttingly narcissistic, contrasting well with Duvall, who never puts a foot wrong but who is so likeably avuncular he may as be walking around with a target on his chest. Duvall may be the pressure valve on this melting pot but the story seems to side more with Penn, portraying the kind of them against us attitude that ends with tragedies like Ferguson. Add a romance between Danny and part time fast food waitress but full time home girl Louisa (Alonso)and you have a mix that's half Red River and half West Side Story.
If you have never seen The Choirboys, The Onion Field or Serpico, the hijinks and cynicism may seem fresh, and in an era when Tom Cruise's shiny white teeth were urging people to join the navy and get killed in new and interesting ways, this kind of grit may have seemed in short supply. That it feels vaguely right wing is all the more depressing; directed by Dennis Hooper, a once proud icon of counter culture embracing republicanism and the right. It seems that drugs really do screw you up.
It’s a cop film in gang clothing; it wants the gangster rap soundtrack and the by proxy cool of telling a story that others fear to tell but it is all so ersatz. Outside of Frog, no real attempt to humanise or deepen any of the gang members is made. When a performer as charismatic as Don Cheadle is sidelined in a movie in which he is the big bad, something is unbalanced. Damon Wayans' PCP smoking banger looks as though he has escaped from the black acting school that Robert Townsend satirised in cuddly but sharp satire Hollywood Shuffle. Add Tony Todd, Seymour Cassell and Jack Vance, who all have blink and you’ll miss them turns, and the feeling is of a film made in the edit. A look on the credits shows the name Fred Asparagus as a Cook - even more typecasting.
Extras:
A selection of deleted scenes including a pointless helicopter scene and a pointless sex scene running eight minutes. A 17 minute chat with an ex LA gang unit officer and advisor on the film, which is interesting but veers off into a polemic on how restricted the modern officer is, which given recent events makes you wonder what a vision of unrestricted policing would look like. The main meat is an interview with the screenwriter Michael Schiffer, good on the facts of getting a film made in Hollywood and researching the streets, less forthcoming on how long his script was before he added the word “homes” to every other line.




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