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Law and disorder

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"Dark Blue" and "The Life of David Gale" are the kind of movies Hollywood used to tout as "ripped from today's headlines!"

Neither is quite as cutting-edge or provocative as the promos would like us to think, but it's encouraging for a single week to bring two pictures depicting timely real-world issues.

The more surprising of the pair is Dark Blue, which could have been a routine crooked-cop melodrama. It gains a major charge of dramatic energy from Kurt Russell's ferocious acting, almost certainly the best of his career.

It profits even more from its ingenious story, by crime novelist James Ellroy, who had the inspired idea of setting the tale in Los Angeles as four real-life crooked cops, charged with the savage beating of motorist Rodney King, are about to be acquitted by a jury whose decision will touch off a widespread explosion of racial violence.

Mr. Russell plays Eldon Perry, a second-generation LAPD veteran who sees breaking the rules as an everyday part of bringing down the city's bad guys. His rookie partner (Scott Speedman) has a less ruthless attitude, but Perry knows he'll come around once a few nerve-jolting crises have scrambled his morals and hardened his soul.

Neither of them realize they're pawns in a larger game controlled by a high-powered officer (Brendan Gleeson) who regards everyone from fellow cops to petty thugs as puppets he can manipulate for his own ends. Another step up in the hierarchy is an assistant chief (Ving Rhames) who wants to end all this dishonesty and dissembling - partly because it's wrong, and partly because combating it will serve his political ambitions.

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