REVIEW: Naomie Harris finally gets a lead role in Black and Blue

Miss Moneypenny's vibrant performance carries this New Orleans crime caper

Let’s be honest, the last couple of Bonds have been a bit of a slog. The running times have been expanding while Daniel Craig’s suits have been shrinking. At this rate, No Time to Die will be three hours long and 007’s trousers will rip up the backside during a pre-credits skidoo chase. But a reliable highlight of both Skyfall and Spectre has been Naomie Harris as a much more hands-on Moneypenny: stylish, self-amused and handy with a straight razor.

Harris has been playing tough but empathetic women since shepherding a bewildered Cillian Murphy through a load of peaky biters in the 2002 zombie flick 28 Days Later. Yet somehow it has taken until 2019 for her to headline her own movie. The film in question is Black and Blue, one of those thrillers that are eager to fold in some social commentary to add grit to the action.

The premise is baked into the title: in a stricken neighbourhood of New Orleans, battle lines have been drawn between the local black population and the cops – understandable, in the wake of innumerable US incidents of lethal police shootings of young black men. Each side views the other with distrust and is ready to close ranks at a moment’s notice. As one veteran patrolman puts it, you can be black or blue, but not both.

Navigating this fraught environment is rookie cop West (Harris), returning to New Orleans after more than a decade away. A military veteran, West knows her way around a bulletproof vest and a service firearm but is struggling to reconcile her desire to protect and serve with the more authoritarian outlook of her fellow officers. At the tail-end of a double-shift, she stumbles across what looks like a drug bust gone wrong. But it is actually a cold-blooded execution masterminded by narcotics cop Terry Malone (sinewy tough guy Frank Grillo, always a fun scumbag).

The incident is captured on West’s bodycam and suddenly she is on the run, pursued by Malone and his network of corrupt cops, who casually deploy all their police powers to throw a dragnet round the area. From funky bash-em-up The Warriors to the Grillo-starring Purge franchise, there is an enjoyable sub-genre of “one long night” movies where characters have to evade evil forces emboldened by the darkness until the sun comes up to symbolically restore order. One of Black and Blue’s best moves is to stage its initial chase scenes in broad daylight. The injured West stumbles through neighbourhood streets only to be shunned by locals who simply do not want to get involved, a prolonged sequence that feels like an unsettling waking nightmare.

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From there, it becomes a test of mettle and wits, as West attempts to outmanoeuvre her former workmates and upload the incriminating footage. (If the plot pivoting on a bodycam initially feels like a relative novelty, the word “bodycam” is subsequently uttered so many times that you secretly wish someone would chuck the damn thing in the Mississippi just so Malone and his goons will shut up about it.)

As combative local gang members and trigger-happy SWAT teams get involved, the action dutifully cranks up in the final third. But Black and Blue struggles to find anything else that matches the intensity of those early, desperate scenes of lethal hide-and-seek. What you are left with is a rather boilerplate chase thriller elevated by a typically gutsy performance from Harris. It proves that Moneypenny can carry a movie, but makes you wonder what she could do with better material.

Black and Blue is in cinemas from October 28

This article was originally published in The Big Issue magazine. Get your copy now from your local vendor or Big Issue Shop.