Deep Cover (1992, directed by Bill Duke)


When Russell Stevens was 10 years old, he saw his father get gunned down while holding up a liquor store.  Now, 20 years later, Russell (Laurence Fishburne) is a cop who is so straight that he doesn’t even drink.  But because of his father’s background, a psychological profile that indicates Russell is unique suited to understand how the criminal mind works, and the fact that he has no loved ones at home, he is recruited to work undercover.  His weaselly handler, Carver (Charles Martin Smith), explains that going undercover means that Russell is going to have to become a criminal 24/7.  He can’t just do his job for 8 hours a day and then go back to his normal life at night.

With the government’s money, Russell sets himself up as a dealer, buying and selling the drugs that are destroying his community.  It does not take long before Russell meets David Jason (Jeff Goldblum), a lawyer and aspiring drug kingpin.  At first, David makes Russell as being an undercover cop but, after Russell is arrested by the righteous but clueless Detective Taft (Clarence Williams III), David changes his mind and brings Russell into the operation.  The line between being a cop and a criminal starts to blur, especially after David and Russell start to bond over their mutual dislike of their boss, Felix (Gregory Sierra).  It doesn’t take long for Russell to get in over his head.

There have been a lot of films made about undercover cops losing themselves in their new criminal identity but few take the story to its logical conclusion like Deep Cover does.  Russell may start out as a straight arrow but, by the end of the movie, he’s killed a dealer in cold blood and broken his own personal pledge to never do cocaine himself.  He also discovers that David is often a more trustworthy partner than his own colleagues in law enforcement.  Fishburne and Goldblum both give excellent, spot-on performances as Russell and David and they’re supported by an able cast of weasels and tough guys.  I especially liked Charles Martin Smith’s performance as Carver.  (When Russell asks Carver if he’s ever killed a man, Carver laughs and says that he went to Princeton “just to avoid that shit.”)  Gregory Sierra is also great in the role of Felix and I loved that, of all people, Sidney Lassick played one of Felix’s henchmen.  That’s like seeing John Fiedler play the Godfather.

One of the best crime thrillers of the 90s, Deep Cover is not only a detective film but it’s also a politically-charged look at why America’s war on drugs was doomed to failure.  No sooner does Russell get into position to catch the man behind Felix’s operation than he’s told to drop the case because the State Department thinks that the drug lord could be politically helpful to them in South America.  As Russell discovers, the War on Drugs is more interested in taking out the soldiers on the streets than the generals in charge.  While men like Carver sit in their offices and move people around like pieces on a chess board, people like Russell are left to clean up the mess afterward.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Marshall (dir by Reginald Hudlin)


So, here I am.  January is nearly over.  The Oscar nominations have already been announced.  2018 is well under way and yet, I still have 158 films on the DVR that I need to watch and a few 2017 releases that I still need to catch up on.  At this point, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never truly be “caught up” when it comes to watching movies.  But, that’s okay.  I love movies too much to ever regret having an excuse to watch more.

On Wednesday night, I watched Marshall, which came out last October.  A film about the early life of civil rights activist and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Marshall seemed like a movie that would perfectly capitalize on the current political atmosphere.  The film starred Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman and a lot of people — including me — assumed that the excitement over Boseman as Black Panther would also translate into excitement over a chance to see him in this film.  (For that matter, Josh Gad has also recently been proving himself to be a far better actor than I originally believed him to be.  Never again will I refer to Gad as being the poor man’s Jonah Hill.)  The film’s reviews were respectable.  Quite a few sites, including this one, listed Marshall as being a potential Oscar nominee.

And yet, when the movie was released, it fell flat at the box office.  On the week of its release, it finished in 11th place.  I guess there’s a lot of reasons for that.  Personally, I think it would have done better if the film had been released in November or December.  In a month that is traditionally dominated by horror movies and the last gasps of a few summer blockbusters, Marshall seemed somewhat out-of-place.  Perhaps Marshall would have stood a better chance if it had been given a limited release in December, with a big awards push for Chadwick Boseman.  Who knows?  As it is, it ended up losing money and it only received one Oscar nomination, for best original song.

Having now watched Marshall, I can say it’s a good movie, though perhaps never quite as good as you want it to be.  It takes place in 1940.  After making a name for himself defending blacks in the South, attorney Thurgood Marshall travels to Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) who has been accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson).  It soon becomes obvious that Northern justice is just as corrupted by bigotry as Southern justice.  A racist judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall will not be allowed to even speak in court.  Marshall ends up advising the chauffeur’s attorney, an insurance lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).  All of Sam’s friends expect him to just make a deal with the smug prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and move on.  However, Sam believe his client to be not guilty and, with Marshall’s help, is determined to win an acquittal.

Director Reginald Hudlin never seems to be quite what type of movie he’s trying to make.  Sometimes, the film feels like a reverent biopic.  Other time, it’s an old-fashioned courtroom drama, complete with different flashbacks depending on who is doing the testifying.  And then other times, Marshall is an extremely stylish film that almost turns Thurgood Marshall into a comic book super hero.  Fortunately, Chadwick Boseman is such a talented and charismatic actor that he holds all of the disparate elements of the film together.  Not only does Boseman bring intelligence and righteous anger to the role, he also brings a sense of fun.  As played by Boseman, Marshall isn’t just outsmarting a prejudiced system and putting racists in their place.  He’s also having a good time while he’s doing it.  Boseman is a lot of fun to watch and he gets good support from Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown.

Marshall may not be a perfect film but Chadwick Boseman is always watchable.  The excitement over Black Panther has proven that Boseman is a star but Marshall shows that he’s a pretty good actor as well.