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  Deep Cover The Thin LineBuy this film here.
Year: 1992
Director: Bill Duke
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, Victoria Dillard, Charles Martin Smith, Sydney Lassick, Clarence Williams III, Gregory Sierra, Roger Guenveur Smith, Alex Colon, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Erik Kilpatrick, Joseph Ferrero, Tyrin Turner, Roberto Santana
Genre: Thriller
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Twenty years ago around Christmas, when Russell Stevens (Laurence Fishburne) was a boy, he witnessed his junkie father rob a convenience store for drug money - and shot for his pains, leaving him dying in Russell's arms. Still, what he told the young boy has stayed with him throughout his life: whatever he does, don't end up like his father and don't get involved with drugs. So dedicated is Russell to that code that he has become a policeman, trying to make his life matter, and when he is called upon by a superior, Carver (Charles Martin Smith), to go undercover, he is reluctant...

But of course he accepts or there wouldn't be a story if he hadn't. Deep Cover was actor turned director Bill Duke's follow up to his acclaimed A Rage in Harlem, and won just as many plaudits, perhaps more. However, it came out at a time when urban American thrillers and dramas with a black focus were dime a dozen - take your pick from New Jack City, Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society and more - while not only that but a certain Mr Quentin Tarantino was just releasing Reservoir Dogs and changing nineties cinema for good.

Or bad, as thrillers with a social conscience like this one fell by the wayside, and Deep Cover was lost between the cracks. Even now, the film is largely overlooked, and it does sadly bear the hallmarks of the more generic tough guy cinema of the era; that said, it does have a few cards up its sleeve in the shape of a script filled with moral dilemmas and crackling dialogue thanks to writers Henry Bean (who had just worked on Infernal Affairs) and Michael Tolkin (riding high on the success of The Player), plus some top flight acting from its cast.

The whole story of Russell is the tale of a man losing his soul, selling out for a lifestyle that he had done his strenuous best to resist. Carver installs him in a run down apartment block in the worst area of Hollywood and sets him up as a drug dealer. To do this he has to make contact with those who can get him to a Latin American crime family who are responsible for a huge amount of the cocaine supply to the U.S.A. Working his way up the ladder, he begins making a great success of this new and illegal vocation, meeting along the way crooked lawyer David Jason (Jeff Goldblum) who manages to get Russell, now called John Hull, out of a court trial.

Now, yes, British audiences will be highly amused that Goldblum's exemplary performance as a sleazy and ambitious slimeball should be saddled with the name "David Jason", but after contemplating the actor calling Fishburne "You plonker!" or fetching a cloth they are likely to be caught up in the story. Deep Cover doesn't spare on the depressing details, Russell is offered his single mother neighbour's son in exchange for cash for example (he declines), and these reach high up as when Russell's traumatic experiences as a dealer (including murdering a rival) amount to very little when the U.S. government takes the side of the Mr Big for political reasons. Very well made, the film falters when it leans too heavily on convention, and the fact that massive operations on both sides of the law seem to be run by a tiny amount of people, but it's a cut above many of its peers. Music by Michel Colombier.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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