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When police officer Russell Stevens (Laurence Fishburne) accepts his new job with the Drug Enforcement Agency, he also takes on a new identity: that of John Hull, a drug dealer on the move to make big money. It’s a “deep cover” that will enable Stevens to get close to the big shots in the drug world... so that the DEA can get the information to bring down a major Columbian drug supplier. But nothing is simple in the double-sided world of working under cover, and Stevens finds himself beginning a transformation into another person... or perhaps, just uncovering the person he was all along.

Deep Cover
Deep Cover starts off strongly, with an artistic opening that pulls the viewer into the personality of Fishburne’s character and his dilemma as he takes on the “deep cover” of his new assignment. The strength of the film is its exploration of what it means to have a “deep cover”: if you go so deep that you no longer run the risk of blowing your cover, at what point have you changed loyalties? When do you become what you pretend to be?

Laurence Fishburne is exactly the actor to pull off the feat of playing two characters at the same time: he’s portraying Hull the drug dealer, while also portraying Stevens the undercover cop who is pretending to be Hull the drug dealer. Fishburne (here billed in the opening credits as “Larry Fishburne”) is always worth watching, with his ability to convey a great deal in a single brooding look, when another actor would come across as merely sulky. Jeff Goldblum plays well across from Fishburne as the creepy lawyer/drug-dealer who takes on Fishburne as a partner.

The movie does promise somewhat more than it ultimately delivers. It looks like director Bill Duke became a little too caught up in the plot of drug-dealer intrigue, and lost track of the fact that the true depth of the story is in Fishburne’s character and his response to his circumstances on both sides of the law. It’s not that the drug-dealer intrigue is badly done; it’s simply that it’s fairly run-of-the-mill, while the character development is definitely a cut above what you’ll find in a run-of-the-mill police thriller. As the drug-dealer plot takes precedence, we also get the “obligatory romance,” which in this case really never fits in with the story as a whole. In fact, all the scenes related to the romance could have been cut from the film without any appreciable effect on the final product, and probably should have been either cut, or developed more fully.

Visually, I found that Deep Cover goes a step beyond what you’ll typically find in an action-style film. Director Bill Duke uses some interesting cinematography, including split-second freeze-frames to accentuate key moments, and a variety of “fades” between scenes. It’s interesting to look at, which is one of the elements that makes Deep Cover good enough to watch more than once.

Deep Cover
For an inexpensive DVD, Deep Cover comes across quite well. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced, and overall looks very nice. There’s some slight edge enhancement, but it’s not too evident. The contrast is good, which is particularly important since most of the film takes place in dark surroundings or at night. I did notice some blurriness to the image that looks to me to be the result of over-compression; the widescreen version of the film shares the DVD with a pan-and-scan version. All in all, though, Deep Cover is very watchable.

A nice Dolby 5.1 track adds depth to the experience of watching Deep Cover. Dialogue is generally clear and well-balanced with the music soundtrack. The soundtrack does make good use of all five channels; while specific surround effects aren’t used that heavily, I found that the soundtrack of Deep Cover made for a fairly immersive audio experience.

Deep Cover has just enough special features to escape the bare-bones label. There’s a trailer for the film, and a set of cast and crew biographies and filmographies.

Deep Cover
You could do a lot worse for an evening’s entertainment than watching Deep Cover. With strong performances by two noteworthy actors, Fishburne and Goldblum, the film has a brooding, introspective quality that makes it worth having in the collection for repeat viewing as well.