Review: In 'Red, White and Blue' John Boyega gives career defining performance
Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
The third entry in Steve McQueen’s explosive “Small Axe” anthology, “Red, White and Blue” - like previous installment “Mangrove” - sheds a harsh light on the justice system in the UK. One was about taking down the system and exposing its corruption whereas “Red, White and Blue” is about the dangers of being complacent. John Boyega delivers the best work of his career as a Black lab technician trying to fight systemic racism from inside the Metropolitan Police department.
Not since Katheryn Biaglow’s electric “Detroit” has Boyega shown this much range. Here he’s playing Leroy Logan, who opted for a career change in the early 1980s after his father is assaulted by a group of patrolling officers. Convinced by a family friend to take the job, Logan believes it’s possible to change the institutional dynamics from within the precinct and watching the young officer navigate the emotional wreckage left from his decision proves a captivating journey.
Rarely do audiences get a sneak peek of what racism looks like from the inside. One would assume that becoming a police officer would immediately get the target of your back, but Logan discovers - after the words “dirty n*****” are painted on his locker - that’s not the case. When Logan chases down a suspect and pleads for backup, nobody comes. It doesn’t matter if he was top of his recruiting class, the white guy still gets promoted. This is an internal conflict McQueen keeps referring to: Logan’s battle with reform vs obvious discirmination he faces on the force. Perhaps it's the pursuit of success that keeps him going or the need to appease his father, Kenneth (Steve Toussaint), who believes Logan is throwing his life away.
Over the course of his anthology, Steve McQueen has painted a different view of the Black experience in London, gently reminding us that racism exists in all pockets of the world and not the United States. Populated with tender, touching moments, “Red, White and Blue” allows McQueen to paint a bleak portrait of the view from the other side, complete with Shabier Kirchner’s glossy cinematography and Mica Levi’s delicate score.
Though lacking the smooth pacing of “Lover’s Rock” and “Mangrove,” it’s a thrilling experiment watching McQueen use “Red, White and Blue” as a means to deconstruct the police system, showing how the only Black person on the job maneuvers through inherent racism and hostility. Both a scathing indictment and reassurance of what people already know about authoritative brutality, Boyega conveys the ultimate struggle of finding good on the streets and standing up for basic human equality. Not an easy watch, but an essential one.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE debuts on Amazon Prime Video Friday, December 4th