6 June 2011
DEEP COVER (Dir. Bill Duke, 1992, US)
Bill Duke’s career as a director never really took off as it should have and whilst he spent a long time in TV land he did show some strong promise in the two films he directed at the beginning of the nineties; A Rage in Harlem (1991) and Deep Cover (1992). Featuring a terrific cast, an exquisite production design and suitably noirish femme fatale A Rage In Harlem has simply become lost but needs to be rediscovered. However, the same cannot be said for Deep Cover, a blistering crime thriller featuring career best performances from Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum. Bill Duke’s direction is supported by one of the best crime scripts of the nineties – a wonderfully dark and twisted collaboration between respected scriptwriters Henry Bean (Internal Affairs, The Believer) and Michael Tolkin (The Player). It’s not surprising that Bill Duke made both A Rage in Harlem and Deep Cover in a climate which had given momentum to a new wave of black American film makers including John Singleton, Mario Van Peebles and The Hughes Brothers. An intelligently scripted critique of drug culture and exploring quite lucidly the American government’s duplicitous attempts to curb and protect the drug empire, Deep Cover takes an undercover cop (played by Laurence Fishburne) and places him within the urban drug scene in an effort to expose the hierarchy of power and corruption. In many ways, the conflicted undercover cop who becomes increasingly seduced by the underworld of crime whilst trying to maintain a level of critical distance is a narrative convention witnessed before in classical Hollywood crime/cop films. What John exposes is a drug empire that has its flow through governments and diplomats who fly around the world with political immunity. In the end John becomes a liability and the American government is ultimately criticised for its deliberate and deeply political drug policy that does very little to curb the influx of drugs into deprived inner city communities with largely black populations. For many at the top, such a cycle of drugs, crime and violence maintains the status quo and even John’s attempts to gain legitimacy in a such a racially divided society pushes him back to an orthodox position that limits personal aspirations. It all makes for a fascinating and suspensful morality tale.