Gang violence on the mean streets of sunny LA
Colors was a groundbreaking film when it hit theaters in 1988. It was definitely a cop movie, but it was the first major film to show the crips vs blood gang battles that had been plaguing Los Angeles for years.
The crips and bloods had been around since the late 1960’s and had feuded over the years. Back and forth shootings was the primary driver of homicides in South Central LA for more than a decade. The introducing of crack in the mid 1980’s put the feud into overdrive. Hip Hop/Gansta Rap music coming out of Southern California at the time was detailing gang life on the mean streets of sunny Los Angeles and adding fuel to the ongoing violence.
And it was enormously popular. Rappers like Ice-T and NWA were gaining notoriety and popularizing the violent lifestyle. Crack cocaine was ripping cities apart and homicide rates were going through the roof. Colors came on the scene as the first film to highlight these problems.
The film portrays a few months in the lives of two LAPD cops who are teamed up as reluctant partners. Danny “Pac-Man” McGavin, played by Sean Penn, is the brash young rookie who has no tolerance and no use for the neighborhoods he polices. He is partnered up with veteran Bob “Uncle Bob” Hodges, played by an excellent Robert Duvall. Hodges had been around long enough to realize a police career is a marathon, not a sprint.
They are placed in a gang drug war that is bigger than both of them. Crips, Bloods, and the Hispanic 21st Street Gang are warring in a battle that has little chance of being stopped. Hodges sees this, McGavin has not had his epiphany yet.
As McGavin polices he sector like a wrecking ball through a shantytown, Hodges preaches tolerance and de-escalation. The two are diametric opposites on patrol. McGavin is making enough enemies to put himself and other cops in danger, and Hodges is losing his patience. Conflict ensues.
The film was directed by the recently rehabilitated Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) and he does a great job of showing the motives for the good guys, bad guys, and people just trying to live. It is a dark vision, but it rings true. You will find some up and coming actors in the movie. Don Cheadle, Mario Lopez, and Daymon Wayans are cast as novice actors. The soundtrack was innovative and included the title song (which you will never get out of your head) by Ice-T and artists such as Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa.
Colors can come off as a bit over the top but remember this was the first introduction to this gangsta life for many American audiences. A slew of films soon followed such as Boyz in the Hood, Menace II Society, New Jack City, and Juice to tell the story of street violence in the age of the crack epidemic.
As a cop you are going to recognize the frustration, the anger, and the futility of policing gang violence. So much pain and suffering over nonsense. A never-ending story of insults, disses, and non-sensical beefs that lead to death and destruction.
Colors runs about two hours, and is available for free on HBO Max. You can rent it on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, etc. for about $3 or $4. It’s also available for purchase on those platforms. Check out the JustWatch website for more info. You can find current updates on where to watch any film or show for free or behind a paywall.