Director Larry Greene stars in this independent take on the criminal element where he takes on the classic "bad cops with good hearts" motif. The problem with this post-Scorsesse world in crime film is that the bar has been raised to such a high degree that it would seem impossible to do anything unique or creative with the genre. There are still films that manage to tackle subject matter in different ways, but for the most part the market has been dried up due to much better filmmakers having conquered all corners. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been attempts within recent years, and very often I’ll stumble across an independent take on the gangster or crime picture and give it my best. While Dark Shields is far from being a best foot forward for director/actor Larry Greene, it does have a few interesting things going for it.
Dark Shields tells the story of a New York City task force and their quest to catch bad guys, but while they attempt to do that they also plan to line their own pockets. The group has made it their MO to track down drug dealers, kill them and then rob them of whatever cash they have. Unfortunately the group has attracted both the attention of internal affairs as well as the local crime lords. When two thugs gun down some local mobsters, there is a bag loaded with five million dollars floating around in the underworld of Chicago and team leader Desmond Reeds (Larry Greene) is tasked with keeping the streets peaceful. As Desmond and his team get closer and closer to the criminal element, they find it more and more difficult to distinguish from their profession and the sordid underbelly that they are sworn to crack down upon.
While the majority of these independent crime films I’ve received over the years have generally dealt solely with the criminal underground, where police are rarely ever seen (generally because they aren’t as "cool"), Dark Shields does at least try to be different by following a crew of crooked police officers. In a story that slightly brings about memories of the classic Sidney Lumet film Prince of the City (1981), we are given the shadiest of police officers as they attempt to justify their own corruption. This angle has been dealt with before, but it usually isn’t given as much credence as general Scarface or Reservoir Dogs clones are within the independent film world. This is of course due to the budgetary restraints one runs into on a independently financed movie. I will give Dark Shields credit in the fact that they do manage to make Greene and his fellow cast members appear to look like legitimate police officers. The bullet proof vests and the costumes are perfect for this story, but the budget does take away from its legitimacy in other key ways.
The gunfights that frequently erupt are one of those key aspects that show off the lack of budget. Many of the prop weapons throughout do look a bit like airsoft guns and then the added CGI muzzle fire doesn’t help audiences in taking the movie very serious. Ditto for the CGI bloodspray, which I’m not even a fan of in big budgeted movies where it looks infinitely more convincing. The overall effect that the bad CGI has is not as profound as the movie’s lack of interesting or new ideas, which proves to be its worst problem, but it certainly has an affect on objective audience members. While I thought that Greene’s "Love Evaluated" (also reviewed within this issue) at least carried with it some fresh ideas and characters, Dark Shields generally falls into genre pitfalls at every corner. Most milestones are touched upon. Corrupt cops having attacks of conscious, worried wives having fits over their husbands dangerous jobs and of course the internal affairs investigator who wants to see the strike team go down. There aren’t many new punchlines to riff off of in the movie.
The cast is one of the brighter points for the project though. While there are some moments that are generally weaker than others (a scene that takes place on a boat seems to feature oddly stilted performances from cast members who acquit themselves in far better form later in the movie), I think the main cast all do fairly well within their roles. Greene appears to have a stable of talented actors who are going to improve and get better with experience. Greene himself is charismatic and more than capable of carrying his scenes, while Jeron Thompson who stars as the lead villain Uncle Scoop is deceptively charming here. Carrying a lot of charisma and a underlying anger in his character, I found myself very impressed with the actor. The rest of the cast get their moments to shine and despite its inadequacies, Dark Shields does show that the filmmakers behind it have the capability of doing very well. You can read more about the project via the official Facebook page: