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Colors is a 1988 police drama directed by Dennis Hopper, which follows two officers as they work to combat gang violence in Los Angeles.

Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall) is a career veteran who works for the C.R.A.S.H. (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) division, and is greatly respected by his peers and the community. As the film begins, he is paired with an upstart rookie named Danny McGavin (Sean Penn), who is brash and aggressive towards the local residents.

They are both thrown into conflict when the murder of one of a hoodlum causes racial tensions to boil over, and both cops are caught in the middle of a war between the Bloods, Crips, and Barrio gangs. Both Hodges and McGavin have to work together to stop the conflict on the streets and deal with pressures both outside and within their own department. McGavin is also conflicted about his relationship with Louisa (Maria Conchita Alonso), a Latino waitress who is bothered by his attitude towards the gangs.


The film was the first directorial work by Hopper in 18 years, and was notable for its Real Life Writes the Plot elements (which included, among other things, real gang members being hired as extras). The film also caused controversy due to Penn's antics during filming — he was arrested and sentenced to 39 days in jail for punching an extra on set.

"Tropes. The War Is Here. The War is Now.:"

  • The '80s: Filmed in '87, released in '88: right around the time that the infamous crack epidemic was starting to sweep many large US cities.
  • Actor Allusion: Tony Todd plays a Vietnam War veteran at the conference. Two years before the film’s release, Todd played a soldier serving in the Vietnam War in Platoon.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The film ends with McGavin and his new partner going back on patrol.
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  • Big Brother Mentor: Frog to Felipe. Frog is a legit old school veterano of the East LA gang world, and early on he seems at least decently opposed to his little brother Felipe getting involved. One night the Crips do a Gangland Drive-By on a 21st Street house party, and an angry Felipe asserts his intention to join the ranks and help the guys take revenge for his neighbourhood. After Felipe's Initiation Ceremony, Frog embraces the mentor role.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Luisa, who seems like a total sweetheart at first. Later on after she and McGavin break up, she's at a gang party getting unceremoniously fucked by Larry in some crusty bedroom, and McGavin sees her in full skank mode. She drops the Girl Next Door facade and says with an attitude, "Look at me, Danny! This is me too, man!"
  • Book-Ends: McGavin begins training a rookie who acts much him at the end of the film, just like Hodges did with McGavin at its beginning.
  • Bullying a Dragon: McGavin (Sean Penn) does this almost as a rule when dealing with the street gang members, because many of them are bullies themselves. He fails to see how ineffective and actually damaging his approach is in the long run until Hodges ends up dead.
  • Collateral Damage: Near the end of the movie when the cops close in on the 21st Street gang and are in the process of arresting them, Bird (Gerardo Mejia) makes an impulsive decision to commit Suicide by Cop and shoots Hodges. The other cops immediately light Bird up with dozens of bullets, and his girlfriend gets inadvertently smoked right along with him. A neighbour lady is also killed by stray shots when the Crips do a Gangland Drive-By on a 21st Street house party.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: McGavin does this frequently.
  • Cool Old Guy: Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall), the older veteran LAPD cop that is respectful to pretty much everyone, and does his best to maintain affable relations with the gangs in his district.
  • Cowboy Cop: McGavin. He eventually mellows out later in the film, though.
  • Crapsack World: The setting of the movie: late '80s LA, firmly in the grip of gang warfare amidst the crack epidemic.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Many of the assaults and murders in the film are in retaliation for some other previous assault or murder. All sides take heavy losses, including the police and innocent civilians, and there's no sign of any of it ever ceasing or being resolved.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Robert Craig, the Blood who is assassinated by Rocket and the Crips early in the movie, has an open casket funeral that gets interrupted by a Gangland Drive-By.
  • Deleted Scene: There is a scene of a random man and his family at the beach being accosted and harassed by a group of Chicano gangsters for apparently no reason whatsoever. When the man tells them to piss off, he gets stabbed in the ribs. Just about the only way to view the scene is to find an old VHS copy; it's not on a single DVD print or anywhere online.
  • Destination Defenestration: A character is thrown through a window.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: While it was meant to show the ugly reality of gang life and hopefully discourage people from emulating it, the movie had the exact opposite effect on some viewers who were intrigued and fascinated by the gangsters and their unique aesthetic and bravado. See the entry for Real Life Writes the Plot.
  • Downer Ending: Hodges is dead, Frog’s brother is likely getting a life sentence, and none of the violence has subsided in any way.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: For both Larry and Rocket, during the epic shootout between the Crips and the 21st Street guys. The 2 square up like gunslingers in an old Western, except it's 80s LA and they have Micro Uzis. Each man kills the other. Basically interchangeable with Showdown at High Noon or Duel to the Death.
  • Ethical Slut: Luisa does seem like a good person overall, and never does anything evil to anyone. However, it is revealed that she isn't really the Girl Next Door like she seemed at first. We see her hussied up at a house party full of gangbangers, clearly having just been screwed by Larry in one of the bedrooms. Danny McGavin happens upon her when the cops are called about a shooting and shit gets awkward. Ultimately she stands tall and says she is who she is.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Thrown through a window, shot and killed during sex, gang violence, etc. There is also a very hard-to-find deleted scene of an innocent civilian being stabbed for no reason right in front of his family. Additionally, 2 women are killed by stray bullets during the course of the movie.
  • Fanservice: A sex scene between Penn and Alonso.
  • Fanservice Extra: A naked woman is among those arrested when the police raid a drug house. She does absolutely nothing in the scene — or for the scene — except be the subject of Penn's Male Gaze. The actress is even uncredited.
  • Gangbangers: The film deals with the ongoing threat of gang warfare in L.A.
  • Gangland Drive-By: Naturally for a urban crime drama set in L.A., (the city that popularized the drive by shooting) they show up.
  • Gang of Hats: The idea for the title of the film comes directly from this trope. The Crips and Bloods especially wear vividly colour-coordinated clothing and bandanas in blue and red, respectively. The Chicano gangsters such as Frog and his crew don't really use colours, but have their own distinct style of dress that makes them easily identifiable as well.
  • Gangsta Rap: IceT did the theme song.
  • Genre Savvy: Hodges is aware that McGavin's macho, cowboy badass approach to law enforcement is very likely to get them both killed.
  • Generic Graffiti: Many of the areas explored in this film add up to a true Urban Hell Scape, absolutely covered in ridiculous amounts of graffiti on every humanly reachable surface.
  • Girl Next Door: Luisa, played by Maria Conchita Alonso. She is naturally very beautiful with great skintone and amazing dark hair, and comes across genuine and relatable. It is subverted later in the movie when McGavin runs into her at a gangster party in full slut mode.
  • Greasy Spoon: The hole-in-the-wall diner that Luisa works at in the barrio of East LA. It looks downright abysmal.
  • Hellhole Prison: A couple of scenes in LA County jail make it look pretty miserable and dangerous.
  • Heroic BSoD: McGavin gets it after Hodges dies at the end of the film.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The 21st Street gangsters corner the Crips in their hideout and a raging gunfight ensues. Rocket is the last Crip standing, and even with several guys at once shooting at him from close range, they hit literally everything except the guy they're aiming at. He and Larry end up killing each other in a Duel to the Death seconds later.
  • Initiation Ceremony: A street gang variant. Felipe, Frog's younger brother, insists on being let into the gang after their party is shot up by the Crips. His initiation consists of him getting the ever loving piss beaten out of him by a few of the more senior members for a minute or so until Frog gives the command for them to stop.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: A Crip named Killer Bee is mistaken for Rocket by the cops, who catch him actually banging Rocket's girlfriend. They raid the room with guns drawn and tell Killer Bee to freeze, but he makes a sudden move reaching for his pants and is shot to death by Officer Baines.
  • In the Back: Officer Baines shoots Killer Bee in this manner when the naked Killer Bee is interrupted during sex and makes a sudden reach for his pants.
  • Macho Latino: Most of the Chicano/Mexican gangsters in the film fit this trope.
  • Marked for Death: High Top, a Blood who gets caught selling drugs to Crips on the side, and catches a vicious beating from his own gang in jail. Also Danny McGavin, when he's wrongly blamed for Killer Bee's death due to Mistaken Identity.
  • Miranda Rights: It's a cops and criminals film, after all.
  • Mistaken Identity: A dual example that kicks off massive drama. Killer Bee is mistaken for Rocket and wrongly shot and killed by Officer Baines when he's interrupted during sex by the cops and suddenly moves to reach for his pants. Somehow or other, McGavin gets wrongly blamed for the shooting and a hit is put on him for it.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A Blood named High Top is working out with the other Bloods in the rec yard at the county lockup when a few of the biggest, baddest-looking of the group randomly turn on High Top and beat him severely, apparently for selling drugs to Crips on the side.
  • No Listening Skills: A former gangbanger now working with the LAPD on community outreach tries talking some sense into the 21st Street guys (and their girls). He points out the toxic nature of the gang world, encourages them to consider walking away from it and to do something good with their lives. They essentially tell him his head's up his ass, it's the only life they know, and hell no they're not walking away from it. They even shit on Hodges, who it almost seemed like Frog was halfway cool with. At that point, it's clear these guys are headed for a Downer Ending.
  • No Prison Segregation: Inside the county jail, the general population is shown grouping together by gang affiliation and ethnicity, but still sharing the same space and having to basically live on top of each other.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Hodges and McGavin. At the end of the film, McGavin assumes the senior role and begins teaching a young recruit himself.
  • Opening Scroll: There's one at the start of the movie, laying out LA's street gang problem, the high murder rate, and how vastly outnumbered and outgunned the anti-gang task force was at the time.
  • Opposites Attract: Danny "Pacman" McGavin, a White cop, meets Luisa, a cute Mexican girl from the barrio, and the 2 are immediately into each other. It quickly becomes clear their relationship will not be an easy one.
  • Police Brutality: Most of the police tactics used in this movie would be utterly unthinkable today, especially in a city like Los Angeles. No one would even try.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: In the scene at county jail where High Top gets jumped, he is lifting weights in the recreation yard surrounded by ripped, buffed-out dudes who turn on him and almost beat him to death.
  • Psycho Serum: There are a few scenes that show gang members using hard, dangerous drugs such as crack and PCP, and completely bugging out with bizarre/violent behaviour.
  • Punctuated Pounding: The Bloods in jail that taunt High Top while beating the shit out of him for doing side deals with the Crips. "RESPECT * punch * RED * knee * BLOOD! Mothafucka..."
  • Pyrrhic Victory: While cuffed on the ground, Frog sees Hodges get killed. He smiles to himself: he may have to go to jail now, but Hodges won't be giving him any more trouble when he gets out.
  • Random Events Plot: If there is a plot in the movie, it's solving the murder of Robert Craig by Rocket. Really though, it's more of just a look at the war/dynamics between the various gangs and police in late 1980s Los Angeles.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Critics thought the scene of the gang gunfire interrupting the funeral wasn't realistic. Shortly after the scene wrapped, an actual church service a short distance away was in fact interrupted by gang gunfire.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Several extras in the film were not actors; rather they were actual gang members, and some were even involved in real shootings during filming. The movie also received criticism upon its release due to its brutal realism, and the fact that gang-related altercations were breaking out at some movie theaters.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Hodges (the "blue" seasoned veteran, who stresses a by-the-book approach and friendly relations with the people he meets) is paired with McGavin (the "red" hot-headed recruit who offends everyone he comes in contact with).
  • Scary Black Man: Rocket. Many of the characters in the film are gangbangers and cold blooded killers. However most have a personality and a "live for today since I may not be here tomorrow" attitude. But Rocket spends virtually the whole movie just sitting and listening to 80's era gangsta rap with a blank expression on his face. It's obvious even other members of his own gang are terrified of him.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Certainly Hodges. This is an honest, principled man who truly wants to make a difference in his community. The reality is that the community pretty much despises him and all the other police, and wipe their asses with Hodges' noble intentions. He dies in the line of duty, and not a single thing is improved by any of his valiant efforts.
  • Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story: Despite all the efforts nothing has changed at all, and Hodges is dead.
  • The Stool Pigeon: A handful of gang members end up being this when they're arrested for something serious. Frog actually does it to get out of prison by letting Hodges know about the hit on McGavin for Killer Bee's death, which in turn motivates the Crips to shoot up the 21st Street party later.
  • Suicide by Cop: Bird, one of the main Chicano gangsters, does this near the end of the movie, taking Hodges (and incidentally, his girlfriend) with him.
  • Taking the Bullet: Hodges inadvertently takes the bullet meant for McGavin when the 21st Street gang is cornered and being arrested, and Bird desperately commits Suicide by Cop.
  • Title Sequence: After the first few minutes at the police station, Hodges and McGavin get partnered up and hit the streets for their daily patrol. This kicks off the opening credits, set to the tune of One Time One Night by Los Lobos, as the 2 main characters cruise Los Angeles ready for whatever.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Felipe starts off as a knuckleheaded kid throwing rocks at a police car. He gets no real respect until he is viciously jumped in to the 21st Street gang, at his own insistence, via ass-kicking from other members. By the end of the movie he is a full fledged gang member having taken part in a shootout where several Crips are killed, and is on his way to prison most likely for the rest of his life when the cops catch up to his gang.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The clothes, the hair, and especially the music (not including the many golden oldies that are featured, often diegetically) make this movie very distinctively late 80s.
  • Urban Hellscape: 1980s East and South Central Los Angeles was quite the rundown Crapsack World: covered in graffiti, overgrowth, blighted buildings, gang wars, poverty and all-around rampant chaos.
  • What Could Have Been: Originally, the film was intended to be set in Chicago and focused on heroin trafficking.
  • White Gangbangers: The one pale White, ginger-haired gangster that rolls with Frog and the 21st Street set, who are unanimously Hispanic/Chicano except for the 2 black members Larry and Spanky. Of course, he is credited as "Whitey."
  • Would Hurt a Child: One dealer uses pre-teen children to carry and distribute drugs around the neighbourhood for him, undoubtedly putting them in mortal danger.
  • Young Future Famous People: The main example is a young, uncredited Mario Lopez, maybe 14 or 15 years old, playing one of the Mexican/Chicano 21st Street gangsters. Courtney Gains also plays a very unlikely role as the lone White member of the same gang.


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