It's April 1992. A turbulent time for Los Angeles, with all eyes watching the trial of the police officers accused in the beating of Rodney King. If those men are acquitted, the whole city might just burn. Kurt Russell stars as Eldon Perry, a policeman who was brought up by gunslingers and sees himself as a man who does a lot of things wrong to get the right results. His superior (Brendan Gleeson) agrees, he knows that whenever he wants ANY mess cleaned up he can ask Perry to get it done. Unfortunately, many other people view Perry as a monster including his wife (Lolita Davidovich), his young partner (Scott Speedman) and an officer (Ving Rhames) intent on uncovering the truth about a recent shooting incident and, in turn, corruption within the LAPD. In fact, as the movie unfolds, Perry starts to think about his own actions and how others view him. He starts to suspect that they may be right.
Written by James Ellroy and David Ayer, this is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from the writers of L.A. Confidential and Training Day, respectively. Eldon Perry is a larger than life character, a bit of a bully and a braggart even to those he loves, and his moral compass has been thrown so far out of whack that it's unsure whether or not he can find his direction again. Ron Shelton does a great job in the director's chair, allowing for the actors to do their best with the material while he makes sure that all of the threads are winding together to complete the big finale.
Russell excels in the lead role, it's arguably his best performance from his 21st century filmography. He IS a bit of a monster and a horrible person, overall, but he's also a fully fleshed-out character with moments that show that he does have a heart (one scene with him being yelled at by Gleeson really starts to make him slightly sympathetic, while another involving Davidovich reading out a letter to him turns into something unexpectedly affecting). Speedman is okay in his role, he's young and acts naive enough and that's what's needed of him. Gleeson is superb, but Gleeson is always superb. In this movie, however, he's even more superb than usual, his performance sharpened by the gradual development of his true character. Ving Rhames, ahhhh Ving Rhames, he gives a subdued, sweet performance that reminds you of the actor who once seemed so great. Why did he ever start to take roles in every other Straight To Disc (or STD, if you will) piece of nonsense? I'll never know. Thankfully, there will always be performances like this one to look back on. Lolita Davidovich and Jonathan Banks have their supporting roles that allow them one or two moments to shine. And shine they do. Michael Michele may have the most thankless role, but she does okay with it.
Putting these characters together and seeing how things unfold makes for a solid drama. Setting everything on the brink of those 1992 L.A. riots makes for something much more. It's tense, it's incendiary and it's an unflinching reminder of just how easily corruption can insidiously filter through even the most well-meaning of people.