Director: Bill Duke
Writers: Michael Tolkin and Henry Bean
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, Yvette Heyden, Charles Martin Smith, Victoria Dillard, Gregory Sierra
Bill Duke’s 1992 film Deep Cover is based on a book of the same name by a drug-enforcement agent Michael Levine. Originally the film was going to be a sequel to Internal Affairs, and changed into a completely unrelated and stand alone film that deals with corruption, greed and how far people can be pushed before they snap.
Laurence Fishburne, who is credited in the film as Larry Fishburne, stars as Russell Stevens, a police officer who is hired to go undercover as a drug dealer to make his way up the chain. As part of his cover, Russell befriends David Jason (Jeff Goldblum) and together they start to distribute drugs and start to take over territories.
The film stars with Russell Stevens as a child in a car with his father, watching as he robs a store and is killed in front of him. The opening sets up the film perfectly. Russell’s father wants a better life for his son, and tells him to do better, just before getting out of the car to commit the crime. It’s a theme that runs all the way through the film, as Russell tries to help people and becomes a cop. At the start of the film he’s a clean cut, person who doesn’t even drink, and sees himself as someone who never will. What happened to his father echoes throughout his life, as he wants to fulfil his father’s wish of being a better person.
As he goes undercover, he must break his morals one by one, until he no longer recognises himself. He questions whether he is a cop pretending to be a drug dealer, or the other way around. He’s pushed to his limits in attempts to bring down the drug cartel, and at points he starts to cross lines that he can’t come back.
Laurence Fishburne is absolutely great in the film, giving a subtle and powerful performance. He’s quiet, disgusted by the world around him, and tries to stick to his principles. His excellent performance is mirrored by a dark voice over that feels like something straight out of a noir film. It’s brooding and perfectly sets the scene for the film. Jeff Goldblum seems almost out of place as the drug runner who Russell partners up with, but still gives a good performance. There’s a great scene where Goldblum is forced to play a slapping game, to completely mock and undermine him. You can see the exact moment that he snaps and the rest of the film is put into motion. A haunting scene that changes everything and starts the inevitable downfall for his character.
The pacing on this film is incredibly quick. There’s almost no baggage, just essential moments that ramp up the tension and stakes until everything boils over. It’s the kind of film that grabs your attention with the shocking opening of a child witnessing their parent’s death, and doesn’t let it go. Immediately after the opening it shows an adult Russell being questioned, to see if he’s right for the assignment, and the pieces are moving from the word go. It tells you straight away that the film isn’t going to mess around. The whole thing feels like no time has passed at all, but somehow the better part of two hours have flown by.
Deep Cover is a film that has you completely hooked. With a powerful performance from Laurence Fishburne, and strong characters, David Duke’s film is a modern classic crime thriller.
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