Aug 262015
Colors Blu-ray packshot
Title: Colors
Genre: Crime, Thriller,
Starring: Sean Penn,
Robert Duvall,
Don Cheadle,
Certificate: US: R
UK: 15
Picture: 1080p
Audio Format: LPCM 2.0
Runtime: 2 Hours 00 mins
Extras: Interviews
Studio: Second Sight
Release Date: USA: N/A
UK: Aug 24 2015
See If You Like: End of Watch,
The Shield,
King of New York

Los Angeles gang culture is everywhere in the modern media; it forms the basis of dozens of TV shows and movies every year, video games, books, documentaries, news broadcasts, and even influences fashion and speech patterns in countries across the world; but before it was so readily available, before it became cool, there was Colors; the remarkably relevant 1988 film from director Dennis Hopper (best known for his roles starring in Speed, Apocalypse Now, and Easy Rider).

Following two L.A. cops assigned to gang duty as part of the C.R.A.S.H. (Community Resource Against Street Hoodlums) unit, Colors sees veteran police officer Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall, The Judge) partnered with the hot-headed young newcomer Danny McGavin (Sean Penn, The Gunman), and hitting the streets following a drive-by shooting which resulted in the death of a young gang member.

Hodges’ and McGavin’s personalities clash like so many buddy cop pairings; one’s old, one’s young; one’s bald, one’s obsessed with combing his hair; but most importantly one’s respected on the streets, and willing to let misdemeanours slide in order to build a rapport with the local gang members and stop more serious offences, while one (McGavin) prefers to operate a hard-nosed, no tolerance, policy where he wouldn’t let anything slide. Yet despite the pair’s differences, this is no buddy-cop comedy. Colors is a serious, sometimes quite dark, thriller which does a fantastic job of presenting two very different approaches to policing the streets of inner-city L.A.

What’s even more noticeable, is despite the mistakes made on both sides (perhaps letting the wrong person go, or going too hard on a suspect for a minor offence), neither approach is presented as right or wrong. McGavin clearly crosses the line a number of times, but can be remorseful and is never vilified for it (although his over-the-top actions; including spray-painting the face of a young graffiti-painting gang-banger; do earn him both the fear and hatred of the local gang members, as well as the moniker Pac-Man), and although Hodges is respected by the street-dealers and criticises McGavin for being a gangster himself, his soft-hearted approach can leave you thinking he’s a little too close to these people. A testament to writer Michael Schiffer, who’s well-balanced script allows viewers to make up their own mind, and view the gangland problem as more of a whole, and a truly difficult problem to solve.

Colors Duvall Penn 01

Schiffer’s script also paints a disturbingly realistic picture of inner-city gang life, including everything from impossible community meetings (where the police are lambasted for asking the public for help), to witnessing a gang “jump-in” a young teenager, the collateral damage turf wars can cause to innocent bystanders, the realities of gangland funerals, and even using young children to move and deal drugs; all extremely prevalent and relevant issues today (nearly 30 years after the release of the film); making Colors not only affecting, but surprisingly modern (if it wasn’t for the soundtrack, and the way people dress, you could easily think it was a brand new film – and if it was, it’d be almost as powerful as it was in ’88), and depressingly real.

Robert Duvall and Sean Penn are both renowned actors, and it’s easy to see why here, as they both excel in their roles; Penn is surprisingly effective as the hot-headed McGavin, and it’s easy to recognise any number of cocky officers who’re out to change the world and too quick to use their fists in him; and Duvall once again gives a fantastic performance as the veteran officer whose weary, perhaps soft, outlook and tutelage earn the ire of his younger partner. You can’t help but identify with both characters (even if clearly leaning towards one method of policing over another), and it’s thanks to not only the script, but the sheer talent of both leads who make the journey through the ghetto such a gripping one; you’ll quickly become invested in both of these men, and want to see where the road through the gangland territories takes them).

Furthering the investment is a number of minor roles which come to have fairly important parts to play in the grand scheme of things; not only Pac-Man’s relationship with a woman from the barrio (uncharted territory for a cop and a gangland woman), but chiefly several of the gangsters Hodges and McGavin build relationships with in the hopes of undermining the gang culture. You start to care for some of these people, hope that some of them may change, and eventually have to witness deaths, jail time, and the further ingraining of gang culture as Colors builds to its explosive, yet realistically downbeat conclusion.

It’s a dark, realistic, unfortunately accurate foreshadowing of the 30 years which have followed on the streets of L.A., and as Colors is so well acted, brilliantly directed (Hopper does a fantastic job behind the camera, and watching Colors makes you realise what a shame it is he didn’t direct more films), well written, and not only affecting but thought provoking (should the streets be ruled with a heavy-hand, or a lighter approach?, and is the descent into gan-life inevitable for many of the young men born into these streets?), it’s a real must watch for anyone interested in the crime genre, L.A. gangs, gangland culture, and thrilling films in general.

Colors Sean Penn 02


Seen as how it was released in 1988, with several nighttime shots, and a plethora of grungy outdoor locations, you’d expect there to be some imaging problems, transfer issues, and not only a lack of depth, but a clear lack of consistency with this transfer (particularly as it’s a mid-range movie with a fairly quiet fanbase). Thankfully, you’d be wrong (for the most part); there are inconsistencies here and there (certain soft shots, a couple of delineation issues in low-lit scenes, etc.), but overall Colors looks fantastic on Blu-ray.

Fleshtones are natural looking, colour pops across the board, there’s a high level of fine detail, strong textures, and fairly deep black levels. All covered with a sheen of grain which adds to the traditional film look, and makes for a solid video quality overall.


Despite the fact we’re only given a stereo soundtrack, the audio for Colors actually sounds pretty good. It can be a touch quiet at times, and sure it would’ve been nice to have heard an upgrade to 5.1 (several score/soundtrack elements may have benefitted, as would the busier scenes – even from producing a 2.1 mix), but the track were given is very faithful to the original source, features a decent range, strong prioritisation, and spot-on dialogue. Not a masterpiece, or reference quality track, by any means, but one which easily serves the films it accompanies.

Colors Don Cheadle 03


As well as a handful of extended and deleted scenes (all short, rightfully cut for different reasons, and varying in terms of HD/SD quality), fans are treated to two lengthy interviews; one with screenwriter Michael Schiffer, the other with technical advisor Dennis Fanning (who served on the LAPD Gang Division). Both interviews are retrospectives, together totalling roughly 45 minutes, and provide very different perspectives; Dennis’ speaks more around brief interactions with Sean Penn and what the reality of working the LA gang unit really were, while Schiffer’s (the lengthier, and easier to watch of the two) is filled with more anecdotes, pleasantries, and actual stories about the production of the film.

While the deleted/extended scenes are largely skippable, both of the interviews are well worth exploring for fans, and anyone interested in gang culture, and although the selection may sound pretty limited, it’s actually a rather strong showing of bonus material for a film of this age and nature.

The Bottom Line:

It may look a little dated, specifically in the action scenes and background fashion sense, but Colors was years ahead of its time (released in 1988, when no-one this side of the Atlantic had any idea about Los Angeles gang-life – before N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, before the Rodney King riots, and decades before Vic Mackey took to the streets), and it’s still amazingly relevant today. Not only that, it’s superbly shot, brilliantly acted, and gives a depressingly realistic look at both the L.A.P.D. and the gangster lifestyle they’re still trying to combat today.

Coming to Blu-ray with solid picture quality, decent audio, and a worthy selection of special features means Colors is also well worth picking up; superbly written, directed, and acted, it features two of Hollywood’s greatest actors (plus one behind the camera), a great story of duality and clashing worlds, and is a benchmark film which remains far better than the majority of cop films released today.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

Ratings 08 Buy from Buy from
Ratings 07
Ratings 06
Ratings 06
Ratings 08