Buddy-cop film mixes fantasy lore with race issues

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Jamieson Greenough

“Bright,” a Netflix Original film, is an urban fantasy buddy- cop thriller, with parallels to our own world with its violent crimes and tense race relations.

Plot: Set in a modern day Los Angeles where fantasy creatures do exist, Daryl Ward (Will Smith), a human police officer, is assigned a new partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), who is the first Orc in the LAPD.

The story opens with Ward returning to work after recently being the victim of a shooting. He recalls how an Orc came out of a corner store and shot him, leaving Ward’s partner Jakoby to give chase. When the suspect escapes, it is assumed by most that Jakoby let the perpetrator go because he was a fellow Orc.

As Jakoby struggles with being stereotyped as an Orc by society and his own department, he and Ward find a common ground in their experiences throughout the movie as Jakoby strives to be an outstanding police officer in the face of adversity.

Then, one night on patrol, the duo discovers a group of criminals slain, and in the middle of the mess, Leilah (Noomi Repace), a young Elf who is in possession of a wand, one of the most powerful magical items in this world.

Word of this magical artifact travels fast, with everyone from gangsters to other police officers attempting to take the wand from Ward and Jakoby at any cost. The pair must now decide how to do the right thing with Leilah and the wand while on the run.

Setting: Starting with the montage that appears behind the opening credits, it is clear that a rich background was developed for the world this film exists in. Graffiti murals portray a divided society. The race relations between Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and Humans make direct parallels to modern day social issues.

Orcs in this film are depicted as “urban” and seem to live in poor neighborhoods and work service jobs, while the Elves are seen as “white collar,” living in the Hollywood Hills. There are unmistakable comparisons to the upper and lower-middle class of our own modern world, and the racial disproportion present in these groups.

This is not the main focus of the film, which is still definitely a buddy-cop film, but it is an ever-present subcontext that runs concurrent to the plot.

By the end of the film the viewer is aware that these Orcs that appear violent and scary are in fact sympathetic and tight-knit as a community. The Elves, however, never seem to come down from their pillar of superiority.
With “Bright 2” already announced, I assume the lore of this world will be explored further in the sequel.
Screenplay: From a cinematography perspective, the film is visually stunning. The special effects portray magic in vibrant light and color. The fight scenes are well choreographed, relying less on quick cuts and more on letting the actors and stunt people’s physical skills shine.

The plot moves in a steady progression, but has a tendency to put characters in locations solely for the purpose of the action that will ensue in that setting. The middle of the film seems to be just the main characters running from gunfight to gunfight in different, albeit visually appealing, places. The film would have received a near-perfect score from me were it not for this.

Verdict: If you have Netflix, there is no reason to miss this movie. If you do not have a Netflix account (why?) and you enjoy buddy-cop movies or Will Smith, this film is definitely worth borrowing a friend’s for.