A confident young cop is shown the ropes by a veteran partner in the dangerous gang-controlled barrios of L.A. about to explode in violence in this look at the gang culture enforced by the colors that members wear.Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
An experienced cop (Robert Duvall) and his rookie partner (Sean Penn) patrol the streets of East Los Angeles while trying to keep the gang violence under control.
Looking back now (2017), this film seems so normal, something that could be included in a long list of L.A. gang movies, with the Crips and Bloods fighting it out for turf. We all know about "gangsta rap" and Compton and South Central and all of that. But then you look at the date this film was released -- 1988 -- and you see that all these things we take for granted had never been explored in any detail before. (Merriam-Webster, for example, does not even think the term "gangsta rap" was invented until 1989, even if Schoolly D and Ice-T were already around.)
Although it is probably not true that "Colors" is the first film about gang violence in Los Angeles, it was probably the most influential at the time it came out. Allegedly, some reviews found it even hard to believe that gangs existed in L.A. -- that is just how novel the premise was. Director Dennis Hopper does an excellent job in laying out what these neighborhoods are like and really tackles the crack epidemic head on.
The original script by Richard DiLello (best known as a Beatles historian) actually took place in Chicago (the traditional gang stronghold) and was more about drug dealing than individual gang members. Hopper ordered changes, so Michael Schiffer was hired and the setting was changed to Los Angeles with the focus of the story becoming more about the day-to-day world of gang members. This switch may be the single best decision Hopper made while developing and shooting the film.
What makes the film valuable today, besides its historic aspect, is seeing just how great the casting was, too. Don Cheadle before he was widely known. Tony Todd before "Candyman". Damon Wayans before his entire family became big stars. Even a young Mario Lopez shows up. The idea of having a white kid (Courtney Gains) in a Latino gang seems strange, but as Gains himself says, that was written into the script and he just happened to be lucky enough to get the part.
Thanks to Shout! Factory and their Shout Select label, we now have the full, uncut film on Blu-ray, looking great and sounding fantastic. The Herbie Hancock score is dynamite, to say the least. Special features are a little bit slim, unfortunately -- no commentary and not a single actor interview -- but we do have a look back at both the writing process and the gang situation in 1980s Los Angeles.
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