Dirty is an aptly titled film. It is the story of “dirty” cops on the filthy streets in the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles. In a plot clearly suggested by the Rampart Division scandals of recent times, two former gangbangers (one Hispanic and one Black) are partners in a special gang suppression unit.
Cuba Gooding Jr. is “Salim Adel”, the Black half of this partnership and what he brings to the table is street cred, bad attitude, and a proclivity for profanity that even Quentin Tarrantino or David Mamet might find excessive. Clifton Collins Jr. is the other half of this pairing, “Officer Armando Sancho”, who has an ailing mother, a close association to his old gang and strong ties of loyalty to both as well as to his partner. He and Salim are also scheduled to meet with the Internal Affairs Division at the end of their shift on this day and that meeting is weighing heavily on his mind. That’s because before he goes to pick up Salim, he is confronted by those IAD officers and told that even though he plans to testify against the “dirty” cops in his unit, his testimony isn’t going to be enough and he needs to convince his partner to come in and testify against them as well. With the weight of his partner’s testimony backing his own, then IAD will be able to convict the bad cops although it is never made clear if the two of them will escape punishment entirely.
Cole Hauser is the second in command of their unit, while veteran actor Keith David is “Captain Spain”, the moralistic man in charge who insists that his men are clearing the streets of hooligans. The Lieutenant is involved in the corruption up to his eyebrows and on the day in question he gives Adel and Sancho the mission of “borrowing” a bag of heroin from the evidence room in order to use it as bait to rip-off some out of town drug dealers who have set up shop in a house near the beaches of Venice. Ostensibly this rip-off is going to kill several birds with one stone, enriching the duo and the Lieutenant, along with the drug dealer who turned them onto the deal “Baine” (Wyclef Jean), while at the same time eliminating Baine’s competition. What happens when Salim and Armando go to carry out this rip-off and the aftermath are some of the film’s best moments and will not be spoiled by this reviewer.
This is gritty stuff, and with Fisher’s other works Nightstalker and the recent direct to DVD release Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders, he has completed a trilogy of works based loosely on true crime stories in L.A. Dirty may well be the best of the three. The story is compelling and Fisher’s deft directorial touch maintains a consistent level of tension throughout the film’s 97 minutes. Clifton Collins Jr. gives a terrific performance, building on his recent work in Capote by demonstrating his ability to play a wide variety of characters and types. On the other hand Cuba Gooding Jr. seems to have researched for this role by watching Training Day and then become determined to do Denzel one better. The result is an attempt at a tour de force performance that ends up going so far over the top that it ends up being caricature rather than archetype. Thankfully it does not detract from the film’s overall success in portraying the ugliness that exists within the vulnerable underbelly of the city’s poorest and most often victimized streets.
There are some minor technical flaws but they are not worth detailing. The photography works well with the storyline and title, capturing the city of Angels in just the right pattern of coloring and shades to fit the story. The story is good, with twists and turns that will keep the audience guessing and the last few scenes are some of the film’s strongest. You can also see “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s” Gates McFadden in a very small role, if you pay attention, one of the few things she has done away from the U.S.S. Enterprise in recent years.
Dirty is an above average cop drama featuring a stellar performance from one of its lead actors and well worth your attention and the price of admission.