Steve McQueen’s Red, White & Blue, starring John Boyega (NYFF) review

PLOT: The true story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), who abandoned a career in science to join the London police, in the hopes of fostering better relationships between the department and the immigrant community he grew up in.

REVIEW: Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series, which debuts on Amazon Prime, with new episodes dropping weekly starting November 20th, isn’t quite the anthology series some are describing it as. Rather, it’s a collection of five separate films, all directed by McQueen, with him sharing co-writing duties on three with Alastair Siddons and two with Courttia Newland. The films center around the experience of Britain’s West Indian community between the years 1969 and 1982, with the John Boyega vehicle, RED WHITE AND BLUE being the series’ concluding segment. Three of the five films, with LOVER’S ROCK and MANGROVE being the other two, were chosen for this year’s edition of the New York Film Festival. Each film is self-contained and stands as it’s own distinct work.

RED, WHITE AND BLUE is likely the film that will pick up the most buzz, with it featuring a tour-de-force performance by Boyega in the lead. He plays a real-life London cop named Leroy Logan, who joined the force in the early eighties as part of a push for diversity in the department, although he spent years combatting the ingrained, institutional racism of the department. Nevertheless, he went on to have a storied career.

red white and blue John boyega

McQueen’s film, running a taut eighty minutes, focuses on his early days on the force, with us following him from his days as a scientist to his eventual decision to sign up, thanks to the friendly encouragement of a police officer friend, who figures he’ll be a shoo-in. However, he also has to deal with the fact that his father (Steve Toussaint) strongly opposes the idea, having recently been the victim of police violence and being in the process of pursuing legal action against his attackers. Nonetheless, Logan believes he can make a difference.

Of his five distinct “Small Axe” films, its likely RED, WHITE AND BLUE will bring in the most viewers, being a solid cop thriller with shades of SERPICO, and hopefully if people like this one (and they most certainly will), they’ll check out some of the other installments. It’s a fascinating story, and Boyega is ultra-charismatic as the easy to like Logan, who simultaneously becomes the force’s golden boy, used as the face of diversity, but also a target for more ignorant officers. They trot him out for photo ops, but when he needs back-up, no one is anywhere to be found. Boyega plays him with a healthy mix of charm and righteous anger, but also with a friendly, affable nature that makes him easy to root for.

Whether or not RED, WHITE AND BLUE is considered to be a feature or not around awards time will be an interesting question, as this year more than any the lines are blurred. Whatever awards it ends up being put up for (Emmys or Oscars) Boyega seems like an obvious best actor nominee, and “Small Axe” will stand as a major achievement for McQueen, who essentially shot five feature quality films back to back. Has anyone else ever done anything similar?

If I have any complaint, it’s that Logan’s story is so intriguing that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be hungry for more. We only really see his first year on the force, but even still it’s a highly intriguing slice of one man’s life. Eighties London is also well-captured by McQueen, who also uses a lot of music by the awesome eighties band Imagination (their song, “Just An Illusion” is a classic), as it’s lead singer, Leee John, is Leroy’s cousin/best friend (who incredulously inquires, “do you want to be a Jedi?” when Leroy tells him he’s joining the force). It’s a great film and, again, hopefully, it gets people to check out “Small Axe” as a whole.

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