From the safe: As the streaming space continues to grow, massive studio catalogs are increasingly available. These include lost and forgotten gems, such bad duds, and just plain weird pieces of movie history. And you probably won’t find them until you wait for streamers to put them in front of you. In the safe, Android Authority aims to save these titles from the algorithm graveyard and help you get the most out of your streaming subscriptions.
Bill Duke’s 1992 crime drama Deep Cover airs on HBO Max, and it’s an absolute masterpiece of neo-noir cinema that’s worth checking out on the streamer whenever you can.
The story of an undercover cop who loses faith in the system he is a part of is as clever and original as ever, with murderous performances and painfully relevant themes of police corruption and social inequities.
Below, we explain why Deep Cover on HBO Max is worth saving from the vault.
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What is Deep Cover?
In Deep Cover, Laurence Fishburne plays DEA agent Russell Stevens, who infiltrates to break a drug trafficking ring as low-level drug dealer John Hull.
Partnering with devious lawyer David Jason (Jeff Goldblum), he soars through the underworld of LA, climbing to the top, mingling with the people he has sworn to bring down.
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But as he works his way up the ranks, Russell is plagued by questions about his own complicity. The ultimate goal of his superiors is linked to world politics and the questionable influence of the US government in South America. His simple goal of keeping people off drugs and out of jail – or worse – is not shared by officials.
Deep Cover was well received when it was released in 1992, but it has become more and more relevant over time.
It is also a recent member of the Criterion collection, with a magnificent Blu-ray and DVD release, and the prestige that accompanies the cinephile imprint.
Stylish neo-noir cinema
Director Bill Duke injects an incredibly elegant energy into Deep Cover. His creative and striking use of light and shadow gives the film a distinctly black aesthetic. It fits perfectly with his story of deceptive and obscure characters, crime, racism and urban decadence.
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Neon lights, smoky pool halls, and the mesmerizing narration of Fishburne’s voiceover give the film a feel of timelessness and entirely of its moment.
Additionally, the Deep Cover soundtrack features original music by Dr. Dre and newcomer Snoop Dogg. The low-key hip-hop soundscape provides an ideal, moody backdrop for Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum’s perfect performances.
Deep Cover on HBO Max: a brutally honest and stylized portrayal of the police
“Cynical” is a word that comes up in a lot of Deep Cover reviews from 1992 onwards. It’s a word that seems to fit the film’s vision of the thin, sometimes imperceptible, line between cops and criminals.
Russell, or John as we know him for most of the movie, ponders the value of human life in voiceover after killing a man in cold blood. No one will come after him, he said. The life of a black criminal is not high enough on the police radar to care. This is not the kind of justice he is committed to. But this is by no means an exception. The deeper it sinks, the more the boundaries between good and evil begin to blur. The more it loses confidence in the application of the law as the authority able to face these problems.
Is Deep Cover cynical or just honest?
Are the cops really trying to make the streets safer? Safer for whom? Is the war on drugs really about fighting addiction and the black market? Is it just a tool of imperialism for the US government? Deep Cover is adamantly against the dominant narrative that would make us think the police are looking out for our interests when they target drug trafficking.
Is it cynicism? May be. But it is also a raw and ruthless look at the inequalities that plague the criminal justice system, where racism and corruption reign supreme. It’s a stylized, distorted, and over-the-top look, but ultimately based on honesty.
Deep Cover is one of the best crime films of all time. And it was way ahead of its time, tackling issues barely in the mainstream now.
It’s a real blessing to be able to watch Deep Cover on HBO Max. Don’t miss it.