Directors: Dennis Hopper
Screenplay: Michael Schiffer
Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks, Don Cheadle, Grand Bush, Damon Wayans
Running Time: 120 minutes
BBFC Classification: 18
During the late eighties parts of Los Angeles were ruled over by street gangs, predominantly the Crips and the Bloods. As you’d expect from gang culture it was a dog-eat-dog existence where many young men and women met blood-spattered demises at the end of the barrel of a gun.
Enter into this equation hot-headed rookie cop Danny McGavin (Sean Penn) who’s keen to collar as many criminals as he can and make a name for himself. He’s partnered with long-serving cop Bob Hodges (Robert Duvell) who is trying to slow down a bit, not let the gangs get to him, and just keep his head down as he nears retirement. It’s this unlikely due that the film then follows as they go about their daily beat, trying to win small victories over the culture of silence that infects many areas where the gangs flourish, within their theatres of fear. After initially winding Hodges up with his quick draw, gung-ho nature, Danny eventually lets Hodges show him the ropes and the two begin to trust each other. When a young bystander is gunned down the two men start to join up the pieces of the murder puzzle and finally get to find the killer, but at what cost to them, their families and relationships?
When it was originally released in the late eighties Colors caused a shit-storm of controversy (nicely explained in the extras by Mr Schiffer) and this resulted in the film not doing particularly well on its initial release. It finally found a decent audience on video and is now seen as being something of a classic in this particular ‘cops go real’ drama subgenre.
Directed by the legendary Dennis Hopper, demonstrating here that he’s a fine director as well as a fine actor, Colors is still very relevant today, if not more so given the recent gang activity and ‘cops against blacks’ violence that is plaguing the USA at the moment. In fact it’s quite saddening and sobering to see how little has changed in the intervening years since this film was made.
Colors feels very authentic, which has a lot to do with Hopper shooting his film in actual gang-controlled areas and using real gang members as extras. Schiffer has also done his research well and the characters and dialogue feel very real as a result of this. The film is nicely shot, with a great soundtrack that fits the visuals very well.
If the film has a flaw it’s that it tends to meander around too much, as if it has all the time in the world to finally get to its point, but the journey it takes the viewer on is always interesting and colourful. However, I felt the brief love story between Danny and the Mexican girl he falls for was a bit unnecessary, although Alonsa is very easy on the eye. I think Hopper and Schiffer must just be fans of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and West Side Story!
For anyone expecting an action film, they’ll probably be a bit disappointed, although there is a decent car chase and a particularly nasty fight in a kitchen, which seems to go on forever!
If you’ve not seen this film before and enjoy realistic cop dramas you’ll enjoy Colors and find the story set-up very interesting.
Colors has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray and is being distributed by Second Sight. The film itself is joined by a fair amount of extras including an interview, ‘Cops & Robbers’ (17 mins), with technical advisor/ex-LAPD gang division member, Dennis Fanning, which is quite interesting, where he talks about his life on the beat and about his time as advisor on the film. There’s also another interview, ‘A Cry of Alarm’ (29 mins) that sees screenwriter Michael Schiffer being interviewed about his work on the film and how he first got involved and about his research into gangs etc. All fascinating stuff. The disc is rounded off with nine minutes’ worth of deleted scenes (six of them in fact), and in my mind the last two should have stayed in the film.