Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04, 2020 10:49 am 
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STEVE MCQUEEN: RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2020) - virtual NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL Main Slate

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JOHN BOYEGA IN RED, WHHITE AND BLUE

A personal struggle to combat police racism from within

McQueen hits it out of the park again in this third of the five "Small Axe" films organized as a BBC mini-series and shown in the NYFF. But this one is more angular and disturbing than Lovers Rock or Mangrove. John Boyoga, superb here, goes it largely alone as Leroy Logan, very much a real person and a known personality in Britain today, though retired after 30 years, who joined the London Metropolitan Police Force in the eighties as a black man of West Indian background to make a difference. McQueen uses abrupt shifts of scene and odd camera angles, sometimes up close and from below, to heighten the contrasts of the action and the burliness of the fiery Boyega, whose role as Finn in the recentStar Wars is playfully alluded to by a friend when Logan says he's thinking of "joining the Force." Not that other Force.

The film gets to a bit of a rough start with some dubious scenes, like the one where the family is playing Scrabble, and Leroy's stern dad refuses to play the word "sexy," and the long stops and starts while Leroy considers the somewhat odd decision as one scientifically trained, who could become a forensic researcher, to indeed "join the force" to "make a difference' even as his Jamaica-born father Kenneth (Steve Toussaint) has developed a hatred of police from being badly beaten and charged for things he didn't do when white officers sought to give his truck an unjustified parking ticket. Leroy's wife Gretl (Antonia Thomas) helps convince him that his personality requires dealing with the public and not hiding behind a desk, and he likes a snappy uniform. (He also likes period soul music, and as in the other "Small Axes," there's plenty of that.)

And so he sails through the training in the top of his class mentally and physically and all is well, and he's even chosen to appear on publicity for recruits of color. But we realize that at this time in England such recruits are rare. So then he gets assignment, and meets up with covertly racist white colleagues whose hatred becomes more open as time goes on. They do not back him up at a very dicey moment chasing a perpetrator when he might have died; they write racist epithets on his locker door. Only a fellow recruit of Pakistani origins is a kindred spirit. Equally bad, school children in the neighborhood, his old 'hood to which he's assigned, shun him.

Action henceforth shimmers with menace, and the forceful body of Boyega heightens a sense of both the danger and Leroy's will to resist. Sometimes I feel the script is short on PC Logan's day to day work, like arrests; and don't Brit cops in cars go in pairs as in the US? But we have to remember this is about Kenneth, Leroy's dad, too: is passion for "my day in court" for the police beating (which we have seen in all its brutality) never dies, even when the police settle out of court after a long wait. It's essential that Kenneth's raw anger be seen as channeled into Leroy's will to make a difference, even as it bursts out in him sometimes too.

This is definitely way less fun than the other two "Small Axe" films in the festival, tougher to watch and perhaps more important. And again, it could not be more relevant to American viewers in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. The real Leroy Logan, incidentally, has recently declared that institutional racism still prevails in the British police, and recent developments have lessoned the checks on it that he had worked to foster. I had reservations about Red, White and Blue, but the muscular force of the later sequences are compulsive watching, bound together by Boyega's powerful performance: more sterling casting for the series.

Red, White and Blue, 80 mins., created with a screenplay by McQueen and Courttia Newland as the final of five films in the BBC "Small Axe" mini-series. Debuted at the New York Film Festival, screened online as part of the festival for this review Oct. 3, 2020.

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