Colors (1988) Directed by Dennis Hopper

Pigs, fuzz, cops, law, five-o etc etc etc. Even though I consider myself rational, there is a part of me that doesn't trust the police. It could be the fact that the police just seem to have too much power and can do as they please. This certainly seems the case in other countries. Right now across the USA, the police seem to be indiscriminately shooting black people, illegally it seems and for no reason other than they are black.  It's shocking to write that sentence in 2015 and it actually brings one to ask oneself: "are we still having to deal with this bullshit?" I think training people to carry guns isn't a healthy option in any society. The Finnish police are armed, but one thing to be said in their defence is their presence seems to be on the invisible side, which makes me think they're getting it right. I watch a lot of crime series and movies and the general depiction really  seems to be a positive one. Recent acclaimed series such as The Wire and True Detective only reinforce this notion of the police being the good guys. Dennis Hopper's very stylized (and a little dated) Colors, at least offers a more subjective portrayal of the police force.

Street life
It's fair to point out that Hopper's movie, although offering up a sometimes vérité look at East LA's gang scene of the late 1980's, it still deals in "shoot 'em and chase 'em and lock 'em up". It's a very stylized, Hollywood and male perspective we're getting with Colors. Hopper does offer a documentary view sometimes (the film is shot by influential cinematographer  Haskell Wexler), he shows the grit of LA's poorer surroundings and the street hassle of youth. But even though this is pre-Wire, it's a shame that Colors script has to deal with so many poor cliches and bad lines that only really stereotype the warring ethnicity. What Colors really represents, behind the cutting edge hip-hop and toughness, is a white middle class view of the ghetto, and on these terms, it works very well. At the root, it's a slightly skewed buddy movie about the experienced cop showing the rookie the streets.

Penn & Duvall share an awkward relationship in Colors
And if I sound too harsh on Colors, it still retains moments of power. These are basically derived from Sean Penn as the rookie and the real star draw, Robert Duvall as the wizened street cop waiting for retirement. Duvall is so good here he singlehandedly carries this film. Duvall is one of the great screen actors of the last 50 years and here he shows us why. There's not much else to recommend why you should spend time with Colors, other than to see this subtle, acting masterclass. It's always about investing enough in the character to make us care. Colors may seem now like a dated police drama, but it certainly paved the way for a lot that followed. Dennis Hopper could have controlled his more excitable urges and even used some subtlety with this picture. But all long he probably knew that many years later, the cod racial politics of the movie would always be overshadowed by Duvall's convincing and moving turn.

Right now it seems as if we have entered a time warp and have returned back to the 1980s. In Finland women are suddenly disappearing from the helm of power (as the new conservative government is forming). But while arguments regarding gender discrimination and racism are sounding familiar, the forum online is relatively new. The massive volume of all kinds of voices of reason and unreason are at our fingertips and in our view. For example, it is sad to read that many people do not understand why Michelle Obama wants to spend the rest of her time in the White House discussing and countering racism. Apparently women who got an education and black women who became president's wives should stop caring for the systematic discrimination of others. Because if they do care, that is called 'whining'. Still, there she is and she won't keep her mouth shut. And then there is the American Civil Liberties Union which is bringing Hollywood to court (studios) for gender discrimination which has lead to the continuous marginalisation of women directors. Finally, real things and real issues are being addressed.

Dennis Hopper, the director of Colors in an earlier incarnation
Because really, the world is NOT ready; the world is unjust, unfair and power is in the hands of a few white capitalists. And this is the state that it was in 1988 when Dennis Hopper released his film Colors. I would love to give this film a raving positive review – but I probably can't. Colors is a stylish and stylised view into two white police men's work in poor eastern Los Angeles. Robert Duvall is very good as the older and more empathic senior officer. He reminds me of Woody Harrelson's character in True Detective. The film has some other nuances that get me to think longingly of the said TV series. Sean Penn is the young aggressive righteous and violent rookie partner, who comes in thinking he knows how policing should be done in this area plagued by gang violence, poverty and addiction. I'm glad to see Penn as something else than the caricature of himself he has become in recent years.

Robert Duvall in Colors
Although Colors deals with race and racism in America, it is a white view asking us to root for the police while portraying the gangs and their members with broad stereotyping strokes. Duvall and Penn are the main protagonists and their lostness and bafflement are the emotional core among the action – yes, it is quite action packed for my liking...but luckily Los Angeles looks good. I feel like linking to this article, because it really relates. And here's an interesting perspective on the Baltimore police and the killing of Freddie Gray. Despite feeling strongly that there is much to be fixed on this planet, I am feeling positive about the potential for change. So there.


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