“There’s two bulls standing on top of a mountain. The younger one says to the older one: Hey pop, let’s say we run down there and fuck one of them cows. The older one says: No son. Let’s walk down and fuck ’em all”.
Dennis Hopper began his directorial career in style. With Easy Rider, he made one of the most influential, iconic and revered movies of the last half century. Over the next 40 years, he only made eight more, and none came anywhere near the critical or audience success of his debut.
For someone who started with something so ground breaking, and who seems to have one of the most unique points of view in Hollywood (and who was never afraid to express it), I’m surprised by how anonymous the rest of his filmography as a director is. In fact, when I decided to watch Colors, it was based on the two lead actors. I had no idea Hopper directed it until his named popped up in the opening credits.
Robert Duvall is Bob Hodges, a cop only a year from retirement who has been sent back to work the Gang Squad in a neighbourhood known as the Jungle. Sean Penn is Danny McGavin, a young hot head, new to the Gang Squad and ready to enforce the law with an iron fist. As Hodges tries to impart his long career worth of knowledge and show McGavin how a little mutual respect can go a long way between the cops and the bangers, McGavin would rather bust every person for every crime, no matter how innocuous.
Along the way, we get a look at some gang politics, some realities of life for the people in these neighbourhoods, and Officer Danny McGavin might just learn a thing or two along the way. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a movie about a mismatched pair of cops. And that’s what disappointed me about Colors.
Look, it’s not a bad movie. I’d go so far as to say it’s a pretty good one. It’s just a lot more safe, a lot more middle of the road, a lot more by the book than I expected. Sean Penn is known for taking important, serious roles. Danny McGavin is a serious role, with his casual racism and head kicking ways. But he’s a character you’ve seen plenty of times before. Robert Duvall is amazing, because he’s Robert Duvall and that’ what he does. But the big disappointment with Colors is behind the camera, with Hopper.
A movie made in the late 80s, set in the volatile world of LA’s ganglands which was only a few years away from boiling over into full blown riots. A movie all about the tensions between white cops and the black people of the neighbourhood’s they’re supposed to protect. Throw Dennis Hopper in to that mix as the person to tell this story and it should explode in all the best ways. Instead, you get a well, but almost boringly made movie.
I guess I just let the legend of Hopper send my expectations in a direction the movie didn’t live up to. But that’s not the movie’s fault. If I hadn’t noticed Hopper’s name in the opening credits, I probably would have been a whole lot more satisfied by Colors.