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Robert Duvall plays a veteran street cop assigned to a Los Angeles gang unit. He takes a headstrong young cop (Sean Penn) under his wing as a partner and shows him the ropes on Watts's mean streets. Penn soon realizes that his testosterone-fueled ways and hair-trigger temper won't get him very far when dealing with the gang-ridden neighborhoods of L.A. Colors is a landmark movie in several respects: it helped bring director Dennis Hopper back into the spotlight after years of self-induced obscurity. Its success at the box office forced Los Angeles's gang problems into the public consciousness and prefigured the next wave of "hood" movies (Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, New Jack City) by several years. Though the late-'80s milieu is a bit dated, Colors is still a vivid, absorbing film. Hopper and screenwriter Michael Schiffer give all the characters a very human dimension and go to great lengths to show gang life from both the cops' and the gangsters' points of view. Wisely, they stir in elements of the cop drama, buddy movie, and action genres, leavened with a bit of humor here and there, while keeping a social conscience. Duvall is excellent as always, as the sympathetic cop, and Penn brings a great deal of depth to what could be an unlikable character. Violent, unsettling, and highly recommended. --Jerry Renshaw
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