Based on the true story of an Australian cop and his connection with a notorious criminal, the packaging for this hardboiled thriller suggests that it was the inspiration for the FX series The Shield. That may or may not be true, as The Shield does share some similarities with Blue Murder. At the same time, Blue Murder has a lot in common with television shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Streets, as well as films like Goodfellas. And if you really want to dig deep and talk about similarities, influences and out-and-out rip-offs, we better mention Kinji Fukasaku's 1975 masterpiece, Cops vs. Thugs, a film that every great tale of police corruption owes a debt to.
The action starts in 1970s New South Wales, when hardboiled cop Roger "the Dodger" Rogerson (Richard Roxburgh) crosses paths with two-bit criminal Arthur "Neddy" Smith (Tony Martin). The Dodger enjoys a reputation as one of the toughest, most dedicated cops on the force, and a blind eye is turned when he roughs up criminals like Neddy, beating the man with a phone book. But despite his commendations and accolades, the Dodger is as corrupt as a cop can be, and he soon has Neddy working for him, the criminal doing all sorts of illegal activity with impunity, as long as the cop gets his share of the profits. Neddy is given what they call the "green light" – permission do anything he pleases, as long as he doesn't kill a cop. This goes on for years, but things start to fall apart when narcotics detective Michael Drury (Steve Bastoni) busts a big time dope dealer. Through the Dodger, Drury is offered a bribe to change his testimony, which would allow the drug dealer to go free. But when Drury takes the moral high ground and refuses the bribe, the Dodger becomes incensed, and violates the only rule of his twisted moral code – he orders a hit on his fellow officer. Everything would be fine, except Drury manages to survive the murder attempt and, convinced the Dodger was behind his shooting, sets off an investigation that rocks Australian law enforcement.
Blue Murder is an impressive film, especially when you realize that it is actually an Australian made-for-television movie. I don't know what television is like in Australia, but if this film is any indication, it has content more thought provoking, gritty and intelligent than most theatrical films made in the United States. The acting is top notch, with Roxburgh giving a powerful performance as the smiling-yet-cold-blooded Rogerson. Roxburgh's performance is the one that seems to have gotten all the attention, but it is Martin, as Neddy Smith, who really steals the show.
Apparently, in its native land, Blue Murder is a huge cult hit, while here in the United States it remains fairly obscure. This new DVD release should go a long way to introduce American audiences to Roger the Dodger and Neddy Smith, the two central characters of the film. The third main character is Michael Drury, introduced in the second hour before being gunned down at the end of disc one. Drury is the moral center of Blue Murder – the only person with any real sense of conscience. Unfortunately, Drury quickly fades into the background in the third hour, and in doing so, calls attention to the biggest flaw in Blue Murder: there's simply too many characters, too much going on, and too much to keep track of. With a running time of just over three hours, it feels like the film has five or six hours of material crammed into it, making it at times difficult to follow what's going on. But despite whatever difficulty there may be keeping up with the fast-paced double crosses and corruption, Blue Murder always remains compelling.
Director Michael Jenkins, cinematographer Martin MCGrath, and editor Bill Russo work together to create a rhythm and pace that often moves at a break-neck speed. Their combined style never works better than at the beginning of the second disc, as Detective Drury has been gunned down in his own home. Jenkins, McGrath and Russo create a frenzied chaos that gets your heart racing as Drury fights to stay alive. This sequence alone makes Blue Murder worth watching.
Blue Murder is presented in 4:3 full frame format. The packaging points out that the film was originally shot in Super 16 millimeter, and that the grainy image is normal.
Blue Murder is presented in both 2.1 and 5.1 Dolby Surround. The audio mix on the 2.1 track is low, and you may have to turn the volume up pretty high to hear what's going on. Heavy Australian accents don't make things any easier.
A retrospective featurette gives solid historical background to the events surrounding Blue Murder. A commentary track with director Jenkins and editor Russo will primarily appeal to people who really love the film, and perhaps other filmmakers, as they talk extensively about how the film was made. It's a decent commentary, more notable for the way it discusses the techniques of the film's production than for pure entertainment. The same can be said for the editing workshop hosted by Russo.
Blue Murder is a good entry in the corrupt cops and sadistic robbers genre. Fans of true life crime thrillers, as well as shows like Crime Story and The Shield will want to check it out.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]