The Movie Waffler New Release Review [BBC] - RED, WHITE AND BLUE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [BBC] - RED, WHITE AND BLUE

Red, White and Blue review
The story of pioneering Black British police officer Leroy Logan.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring: John Boyega, Antonia Thomas, Mark Stanley, Steve Toussaint, Tyrone Huntley, Assad Zaman

small axe poster

There's a light-hearted moment early on in this third instalment of Steve McQueen's Small Axe anthology that sees our protagonist, Leroy Logan (John Boyega), look on as his wife Gretl (Antonia Thomas) plays her closing hand in a game of Scrabble against his father, Ken (Steve Toussaint). Gretl spells out the word "Sex". Ken has one letter left, a "Y", but he's too prudish to add it to the end of Gretl's offering and instead calls it quits. It's a small moment, but the best filmmakers know that stories are told through such seemingly throwaway observations. The scene playfully demonstrates a disparity between conservative first generation Caribbean immigrants and their more liberal British born children.

Red, White and Blue review

An even greater disparity forms the basis of this biopic of Logan, who became one of London's first Black police officers in the 1980s, much to the chagrin of his father, for whose generation such an idea was unthinkable. Hospitalised by a pair of cops who assaulted him when he attempted to demonstrate how his truck was parked legally, Ken has nothing but animosity towards the police, so he's none too happy when Leroy announces that he's been accepted to the Met police's academy at Hendon. Leroy tries to explain that he's motivated to change police attitudes from within, but his father simply feels betrayed.

Leroy passes training with flying colours, winning the admiration and respect of both his trainers and his fellow recruits. When he finds himself stationed on his home turf in the London borough of Islington, Leroy is forced to fight a war on two fronts. Aside from a similarly struggling Pakistani officer (Assad Zaman), Leroy's is the only non-white face in the station, and his fellow officers and superiors go out of their way to remind him of this, even scrawling racial slurs on his locker. On the streets, Leroy is similarly abused by his own community, who spurn his attempts to build bridges between Black and Blue. But as he told his trainers at the academy, Leroy isn't out to make friends, and stands his ground against the racists in his station ("Back me up or I'll slap you up!") and his disapproving public ("That's Constable Judas to you!").

Red, White and Blue review

Boyega is mesmeric in a career best turn that requires him to run the gamut from tough to tender. His Leroy is ultra charismatic, a Black British cousin of Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs (given how Imagination front man Leee John is a supporting character in this story, McQueen must have been tempted to needle drop the band's 'In the Heat of the Night'). We watch as he carries the weight of an entire community on his shoulders, but also as he enjoys moments away from the stress of his work, like when he dances around to his friend Leee John's latest hit. Few actors of his generation can communicate so much with a frown or a smile as Boyega does here.

Similarly, Red, White and Blue is a piece that requires McQueen to pull off scenes that range from tenderness to tense, and he does so with the economic craft he's become known for. The movie's most touching moment sees McQueen's camera remain in the backseat of a car as it observes a reconciliation between Leroy and his father. Elsewhere McQueen auditions for a future action assignment with a tense set-piece in which Leroy pursues a suspect through a factory, McQueen's roaming steadicam reminiscent of classic Katheryn Bigelow.

Red, White and Blue review

Red, White and Blue is a gripping watch, but unlike the other chapters of Small Axe, it doesn't quite satisfy as a standalone movie, more like a decidedly polished pilot for a weekly cop show. At a mere 80 minutes it ends somewhat abruptly, as though another half hour has been chopped off its tail end. I suspect this is the point, as Logan's story is one that's ongoing. McQueen isn't out to neatly wrap things up but rather to leave us in a state of frustration, to ponder how things will turn out for Logan. Such ambiguity might work for a fictional protagonist, but you'll likely find yourself hitting Wikipedia to find out how this tale ends.

Red, White and Blue
 is on BBC iPlayer now.

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