Set in Los Angeles, in April 1992, Dark Blue takes place from a few days before and during the acquittal of four officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King and the subsequent L.A. riots. The film begins with footage of the Rodney King beating and switches to a scene showing Sergeant Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) pacing in a motel room. Perry grabs a shotgun and pistol, and then the film cuts to a scene with two men in a car five days earlier, Darryl Orchard (Kurupt) and Gary Sidwell (Dash Mihok), appear to be robbing a convenience store, when they are actually after a safe in the room above the store. Four people are murdered in the robbery and one severely wounded. The story then shifts to Detective Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), who is in a Gun Board hearing in relation to an application of deadly force. His partner, Perry, defends him, and the two leave.
Perry, Keough, and Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson) are all sitting in a room when they find out that Keough is exonerated. Jack Van Meter is Keough and Perry's superior and a man of poor moral character—he often has his subordinates fabricate stories and evidence. It is later discovered that Perry killed the man that the Gun Board thinks Keough killed, meaning Perry and Keough perjured themselves earlier. Later that night Van Meter goes to Orchard and Sidwell's house and takes the money the two stole from the safe, indicating that the two work for him. That night Keough is shown having sex with a woman who is also a police officer (Michael Michele); the relationship is casual, and they do not reveal their surnames to one another.
The next morning Van Meter tells Perry and Keough to investigate the convenience store murder-robbery. Their investigation ends with them finding Orchard and Sidwell as lead suspects; when this is brought to Van Meter, he tells them to pin it on someone else and provides a false alibi for Orchard and Sidwell. Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) finds Perry's actions suspicious and also does not believe Keough killed the man he was charged with killing at the Gun Board hearing. He asks his assistant Sergeant Beth Williamson (Michael Michele), who has a mutual fling with Keough, to help him. When Williamson is pulling files on Perry and Keough, she discovers the identity of her lover to be Keough.
Later in the night, after obtaining a search warrant with underhanded techniques, a SWAT team raids the house of the ex-cons who are to be the fall guys. One of the ex-cons escapes and goes into a back alley, but is chased by Perry and Keough. When they catch up, Perry tells Keough to kill the man, but Keough has trouble pulling the trigger. Ultimately, however, Keough does kill the innocent man and is visibly shaken. Later on, Perry arrives at home mid-day and sees a moving truck outside of his house. His wife informs him that she is leaving him for another man. Perry tells her that she can keep the house, and leaves. Keough, still distraught after shooting an unarmed man begging for his life, goes to Williamson's house and confesses to her that he killed the man under Perry's orders. During this time, Van Meter decides he wants Perry killed and calls Orchard and Sidwell to do the job.
Van Meter calls Perry and tells him that there is a witness at the address 12657 Juliet. Perry initially balks at this proposal, citing the fact that this "witness" was not directly involved, and that this suggested murder would be far different. He finally accepts, and the call ends. Perry then runs the address 12657 Juliet with the department, and it is uncovered to be the address of Orchard and Sidwell. Shocked at this revelation, Perry ultimately decides to arm himself and head out to the address anyway, perhaps to kill Orchard and Sidwell. This links back to the start of the film.
Believing that Perry was sent by Van Meter to Orchard and Sidwell (as they are unaware of Van Meter's ambush for Perry), Keough and Williamson also drive to 12657 Juliet. It is while driving there that they learn that the officers involved in the Rodney King beating were found not guilty and the city begins to break down. Turning a corner near Orchard and Sidwell's house, Perry sees Keough and Williamson and all three stop. This pause is only broken as Keough is killed by Orchard and Sidwell firing from the rooftop, and the latter subsequently flee. Before dying, Keough tells Perry that he has ratted him out. Infuriated, Williamson blames Perry for what happened, saying she hopes he will burn in Hell. Perry calls in the incident, hesitating briefly before stating his intention of pursuing Orchard and Sidwell.
As they are driving through what are the L.A. riots, Sidwell is dragged out of his car and beaten to death by rioters while Orchard is captured by Perry. Perry then heads to the police academy promotions ceremony (he is promoted to Lieutenant), where he confesses about the corruption and implicates Van Meter. Van Meter attempts to discredit Perry, but ultimately fails as Perry volunteers himself to be arrested, and Holland orders an officer to do so. After the ceremony is adjourned, Perry and Holland chat briefly; Perry is well aware he will be incarcerated, and asks Holland to help him avoid the rougher prisons. Holland says he will see what he can do. The film ends with Perry gazing at a burning skyline of downtown Los Angeles.Kurt Russell as Sergeant Eldon Perry
Scott Speedman as Detective Bobby Keough
Michael Michele as Sergeant Beth Williamson
Brendan Gleeson as Commander Jack Van Meter
Ving Rhames as Assistant Chief Arthur Holland
Master P as Maniac
Kurupt as Darryl Orchard
Dash Mihok as Gary Sidwell
Jonathan Banks as James Barcomb
Lolita Davidovich as Sally Perry
Khandi Alexander as Janelle Holland
Dana Lee as Henry Kim
Kaila Yu as Asian Stripper
Chapman Russell Way, Kurt Russell's cousin, portrays the son of Russell's character in the film.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. It has a 58% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 128 reviews, while it has normalized score of 57 out of 100 from reviewer website Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
William Arnold of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave the film a positive review:
However, the film also received negative reviews such as L.A. Weekly: