Film Review: Bright (USA, 2017) is a gritty alternate universe take on the police procedural drama

Since Netflix’s launch the streaming service provider has been pumping out its own studio content to screen exclusively on its service. As the service provider grows it also attempts more ambitious projects working with directors, producers, script writers and actors of a higher calibre. We saw this in Okja that was released a couple of months back, and they’re next effort also continues this trend.

Bright starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, directed by David Ayer (Suicide Squad, End Of Watch) and written by Max Landis (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Chronicle) is a gritty alternate universe take on a police procedural drama. Combining elements from intense action packed thrillers to socially charged themes and adding in fantasy based characters into a Los Angeles filled with humans, orcs, elves and other fantastical creatures.

Daryl Ward (Smith) is just 5 years shy of retiring from the Los Angeles Police Force, he’s struggling to pay his mortgage and keep his family together. His neighbours are a bunch of mouthy gangsters and to make matters worse he’s been assigned a new partner. Nick Jakoby (Edgerton) is a rookie cop, desperate to try and fit in and do a good job, but he’s got the whole world watching him as the first ever Orc assigned to working on the police force. Expectations are high on both of them, with their superiors ready to find any weak excuse to fire them both. As they head out on an evening patrol their night takes a violent and unexpected turn when they inadvertently become guardians of young elf Tikka (Lucy Fry) and a magic wand. The wand can only be wielded by a ‘Bright’, a person with specially trained supernatural powers and in the wrong hands can be a weapon of mass destruction.

Director Ayer knows his way around dark police dramas, with Street Kings, Sabotage and End Of Watch all credited, and it’s the latter that this film most similarly resembles. Stylistically he’s gone for a film with constant tension that very quickly injects fast paced action and graphic violence. This is a world that is grimy and unforgiving as our characters accidentally fall into a turf war and struggle to survive the night. What feels a little odd is the parallels between the AU Los Angeles with their “fairy lives don’t matter today” and showing the ever-expanding divide between the upper class rich elves, and the lower class orcs; to our own 2017 Trump-administration America with its continuing race and class wars. Laid over the top of this is the chemistry between Ward and Jakoby, which begins as tense and it’s peppered with moments of humour throughout but it’s not until we reach the end that we feel like their friendship has been earned.

Will Smith is very atypical Will Smith here, with plenty of quippy witty banter but it’s nice to see him getting to lay down some action chops once again. Joel Edgerton is unrecognisable under a ridiculous amount of prosthetics and with some fiddly false chompers but he conveys the earnest Jakoby convincingly. Where Edgerton gets to stand out against his older costar is having a character that needs to physically and mentally rise to the challenge and seeing him get beat down by all comers only to keep persisting makes him the more interesting of the two leads. The young Aussie actress Lucy Fry has a similar vibe to Dafne Keen (from Logan), having to convey a lot more with her face, action and eyes and less with her limited Elvish dialogue. Noomi Rapace is unfortunately wasted, playing the villainous elf Leilah, most of her scenes are a blur of action stunt sequences and literally paving a path of destruction.

Story and character wise it’s not really anything new or original, we’ve seen it before in Ayer’s own penned Training Day or dropping further into the past with the 1988 film Alien Nation. It’s a buddy cop drama, but with a lot more shoot-em-up and more gang warfare and lots more weird creatures. But there are elements that had potential to be explored that are overlooked. The ridiculous longsword and shadowy cult-like group called The Shadow Of Light and their prophecy. The Inferni which Leilah belongs to is mentioned repeatedly but no context or explanation other than that they want to raise the Dark Lord is ever given. Did Ward ever manage to sell his house? Did the jerk cops ever stop calling Jakoby the “diversity hire”? Why are elves always rich and beautiful?

Bright has just enough buddy-cop shenanigans and quality solid performances from its two leads to be watchable. But beware the plotholes and the fact that there seems to be a bit more time spent on the action and violence than there is on providing exposition or properly explaining things.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 117 minutes

Bright will be available to stream on Netflix Australia from 22 December 2017 and also screening in select cinemas.