Sunday, July 22, 2018

All Things Being Equal

This week on the Do Some Damage podcast I followed this line of thinking: The Equalizer 2 opens this weekend marking the fourth time Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua have worked together. Since their first collaboration, Training Day, won Washington his first Best Actor Oscar and was also the first unqualified success for Fuqua (whose feature film debut, The Replacement Killers, I really enjoyed, but find myself in an apparent minority) as well as a hell of a reputation maker for screenwriter David Ayer, and seeing as Fuqua and Ayer have gone on to have big if uneven careers, I used my seven minutes to talk about another film from both of them.

First I talked about my favorite Fuqua; 2009's Brooklyn's Finest. Follows what I like to think of a classic James Ellroy structure; three very different cops with different problems and motivations end up crossing paths with terrible results.

First we have Don Cheadle's quickly burning-out undercover whose handler (Will Patton) has promised him a major promotion and an end to undercover work if he betrays his best friend (a pretty engaged Wesley Snipes). Along the way he'll lose his soul.

Second - Ethan Hawke's hard-pressed officer who steals desperately needed money from a drug bust to help get his at-risk-pregnant wife (Lili Taylor) and kids out of their black mold infested shitbox row house into a place the air and water won't literally poison them. Along the way he'll lose his life and create some terrible collateral damage.

Third is Richard Gere's cowardly cop just trying to finish his time before retiring alive. He avoids confrontation at all cost and ignores some super shady shit before his latent conscience gets the better of him. Along the way he'll lose his skin.

It's a pretty great tragic drama without heroes and only shades of grey and it's free on Prime now.

Training Day wasn't Ayer's only 2001 credit - he also wrote the Point Break riff about an undercover cop infiltrating a ring gear-heads, The Fast & the Furious; which has spawned a franchise that's moved on from being concerned with stealing CD players to saving the fucking world one nitrous infusion at a time. And if you thought the he borrowed liberally from the surfer movie, you should hold up the script for Training Day next to James Ellroy's original screenplay, Dark Blue. Maaaaaybe a line or three of dialogue appear in both.

Dark Blue is a non-sports-themed Ron Shelton flick based on an Ellroy script re-written by Ayer starring Kurt Russell as a dirty cop about to face a reckoning. Set in L.A. in 1992, the country holding its collective breath awaiting the jury's verdict in the trial of the police officers caught on camera beating holy hell out of a pedestrian named Rodney King. We all know what's about to happen and it makes for a hell of a ticking clock device while Russell attempts both to solve some brutal murders and use the chaos to cover up some of his own dirt.

I'm not sure why this movie didn't get more love when it came out. My guess is that it was mostly a victim of poor timing - arriving so shortly on the heels of Joe Carnahan's similar and superior indie darling Narc - but if you've never seen it it's a solid adult crime flick with some great writing (a few groaner lines aside) and a terrific performance from Russell who is more than just a hair-do.

There are a few flimsy bits and Scott Speedman's rock star locks don't really lend him street cred, but the cast also includes Brendan Gleeson, Lolita Davidovich, Jonathan Banks and Ving Rhames so don't hesitate to give it a look - available to rent or purchase on Amazon.

All this talk of Ellroy influences got me pissed off all over again at the news that we wouldn't be getting to see Jordan Harper's James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential on TV or any streaming service after all after this fuckin article came along to rub tabasco in my wounds. Shit shit shit.

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