The only feature directed by Dennis McGuire, whose sole Hollywood credit outside this project was cowriting the bizarre insane-asylum picture End of the Road (1970), this obscure drama somewhat anticipates the notorious Rodney King incident, because the plot concerns a young man capturing an episode of police brutality on film. Unfortunately, McGuire—who adapted the script from a novel by Paul Tyner—can’t quite figure out where to go from his incendiary jumping-off point. Instead of taking the obvious path by creating a thriller wherein the police officer tries to prevent evidence from surfacing, or even the more challenging path of exploring the societal repercussions after the evidence is released, McGuire opts for a two-pronged character study.
Most of the scenes depict the bad cop in his everyday environment, carousing and drinking in between bouts of Catholic guilt and self-loathing. A smaller number of scenes depict the person who shot the incriminating footage, a young, African-American film student. Neither of these characters is put across in a satisfying way, and it doesn’t help that idiosyncratic actor Michael Moriarty plays the leading role—he’s alternately somnambulistic and weird, conveying the surface of the cop without providing much psychological insight.
The film starts on an interesting note, setting up the possibilities and problems of McGuire’s ambiguous approach. Beat cop Herby (Moriarty) gets caught taking a bribe in exchange for not writing a traffic ticket, so he’s briefly suspended. Meanwhile, young Lamont (Eric Laneuville) spends his time filming a praying mantis for an experimental film project. One day, their lives collide. Back on the beat, Herby casually murders a suspect in an alleyway, and Lamont films the altercation from his apartment window several stories overhead. Then, once Herby is suspended again while the investigation grinds along, the lawyer (Paul Sorvino) representing the dead man’s widow finds Lamont and arranges for him to be a surprise witness at Herby’s trial. Yet much of the picture concerns tangential stuff, like Herby’s debauched exploits with fellow sleazebag Garrity (Earl Hindman).
McGuire tracks and resolves the story in an awkward manner, largely ignoring obvious and worthwhile possibilities for expanding the narrative’s sociological impact. Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue contains intimate and strange details, but it also contains lots of pointless filler. So by the time the picture reaches its fashionably cynical finale, McGuire has lost most of his authorial credibility.
Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue: FUNKY