Blu-ray Review: Deep Coverage | Under Le Radar Magazine

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Deep coverage

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jul 16, 2021
Web exclusivity

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Russell Stevens (Laurence Fishburne) is a principled Cincinnati cop who takes pride in his upright lifestyle over the years after witnessing the death of his cocaine-thirsty father in the middle of a robbery in a liquor store.

“This was not going to happen to me,” he said in a voiceover.

As an officer in uniform, he is recruited by a pencil pusher named Carver (Charles Martin Smith) to infiltrate Los Angeles and infiltrate a drug ring under the pseudonym John Hull and presumably to help fight the overwhelming quantity of narcotics entering the country from major suppliers in Latin America.

While Stevens’ background and current stance on drugs makes him an ideal candidate for such an assignment, it’s pretty clear early on that the only part of his identity that really matters to Carver is that he’s a black man, and someone he can rule over. “I am God,” Carver says repeatedly to explain his apparent omnipotence in the scenes to come.

Moving up the cartel hierarchy, Stevens (as Hull) forms a partnership with a crooked and middleman lawyer for resellers and suppliers, David Jason (Jeff Goldblum). Understandably, things turn almost immediately – as they are accustomed to in any movie so steeped in dark leanings – both with her relationship to the cartel and her law enforcement managers.

Stevens’ mission, as it stands, seems half-baked and incompetent from the start. This is not due to his aptitude or lack of it, but rather to the inconsistent whims of his superiors, bureaucracy and outright corruption. Black films will often have multiple double and even triple crosses and while there are several downstairs with the way Stevens and Jason navigate their own precarious positions, the biggest betrayal comes from above. Carver plays the ignorant when confronted with Stevens for unplugging because allegiances have changed, but it’s all about climbing the ranks for him.

“Have you ever killed someone?” Stevens asks Carver at one point in the movie.

“Are you kidding? I went to Princeton to avoid all this shit,” Carver retorts.

The War on Drugs was a failed endeavor even before it had started, but especially in 1992 when the film was released, and yet it continues today. The enemy, as Carver stated, is ethereal and constantly evolving to match the loose allegiances in place at the time. Men like Carver – white, rich – usually dip their toes in and can get a comfortable office gig, which he does, once the dust settles. He tells Stevens to follow suit, but it’s not genuine or he doesn’t know what opportunities will be available. Stevens was effectively left behind.

Deep coverage is a grainy film noir that deals with very specific themes that remain prevalent three decades later in terms of class inequality, racist systemic structures, government subterfuge and fixed social strata.

And while this was a great portrayal of the black cinema of the time, it almost wasn’t. As film historian Michael B. Gillespie – who is also critical of the term “neo-noir” – writes in his superb accompanying essay, “Who Will Pay Reparations On My Soul?” Russell Stevens’ character was originally conceived as a white man, which seems impossible based on the finished product. As portrayed by Fishburne, Stevens / Hull is entangled in its darkness because of what the film says about black people set up for failure by a racist system. The dilemmas Stevens would face wouldn’t be the same for a white guy. Even in the context of what we’re seeing, Goldblum’s Jason is in a position of influence over Fishburne’s Stevens, even though Jason has his own issues as a passing Jewish man. Stevens / Hull isn’t the kind of character where you could have just transplanted someone like, say, Bruce Willis and kept the story, so that must have involved a massive overhaul.

The change came when director Bill Duke came on board the project and collaborated with screenwriters Henry Bean and Michael Tolkin. This was at least in part due to a cynical attempt to profit from other noir crime films of the time like New Jack City and Boyz n the Hood, but luckily the finished movie is something to see. It’s an exciting and fresh take on black that should have a wider and more openly celebrated reputation than it does.

The chemistry between Fishburne and Goldblum is spectacular as they joke – sometimes playfully and sometimes with a sharp, precise edge like a scalpel. Gillespie notes that director Duke has built strong relationships with his cast and has fostered and encouraged improvisation. But the movie never feels heavy, even when the actions inside get out of hand. It’s frantic with a variety of jump cuts, dutch angles, and neon-soaked lighting, but it all feels useful. It simultaneously draws attention to the fact that this is a movie while juggling the gravity of reality at its heart.

And while the very end of the film offers a silver lining amid all the darkness that surrounds Stevens, it’s undermined by the idea that nothing will ever fundamentally change as long as the folks pulling the strings are allowed to keep on. do it. It’s a bittersweet fist pump that rhetorically asks, “Was it worth it?” “

The Criterion disc includes several key features in addition to its digital restoration, including a 2018 discussion seminar with Duke and Fishburne hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell, a new interview with Duke, a feature film discussing the hip-hop title song by Dr. Dre and starring Snoop Dogg, and a conversation between Gillespie and fellow film expert Racquel J. Gates about the film’s overlap between noir and noir cinema.

After being aptly named for a painful lack of black cinema in the collection, Criterion appears to be making strides in addressing the lack and Deep coverage is certainly a step in the right direction.

(www.criterion.com/films/31499-deep-cover)


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