Arizona Son: The Cardone Files Vol. 6 — True Blue (2001)

In the penultimate instalment of his epic interview series, Dave learns how, after a decade spent in the desert, J.S. Cardone upped sticks to Toronto to craft an exemplary neo-noir.

It was very much a case of new century, same backdrop for Joe Cardone. The millennium brought about his most high-profile release in years, when the Sony-backed, Arizona-shot vampire flick The Forsaken (2001) opened on fifteen-hundred screens across America, pulling in just shy of $10million off an alleged budget just above that figure. However, it’s a statistic that the filmmaker is quick to contest:

“I always laugh at IMDb. It’s so full of shit. With The Forsaken, they have our budget listed at $15million. We made that film for $5million. Look at some of the programmers that we did for Sony: Sniper 2 (2002), Sniper 3 (2004), Wild Things 2 (2004), Wild Things 3 (2005), Single White Female 2 (2005). In Sniper 2 I don’t know how Carol [Kottenbrook] went to Hungary and pulled that film off with all that action.”

Ironically, it was this follow-up to Luis Llosa’s original Panama set actioner that led to Cardone embarking on what’s unquestionably his most noirish film to date, TRUE BLUE (2001). The relationship that Cardone and Kottenbrook established with Sony via their company Sandstorm Films certainly seemed to suit both parties. They’d go off and produce a direct-to-video sequel to an established and strong-selling property, and the studio would agree to finance a picture for Cardone to make. True Blue rolled into production when both elements fortuitously crossed paths, as the director explains.

“Sony had the original script for Sniper 2, but the studio wasn’t happy with it which delayed things slightly. Tom [Berenger] had come on board to reprise his role from the original, and they obviously had to pay him a lot of money to do so! It’s funny, though, everything always centred around Black Day Blue Night (1995), and Tom said, “I saw that film you made with J.T. Walsh. That was cool. I liked it a lot.” So I said to him, “I have this script called True Blue that you might like. Maybe we can set it up at Sony?” I gave Tom the script, he read it, and he said, “You know what? We’re going to make this before we make Sniper 2″.”

“Sony weren’t too impressed, and said they have no intention of making True Blue. But I just came back with the fact that they’ll have to talk to Tom about that! It was a lot of fun. A LOT of fun. We’ve maintained a good friendship.”

Berenger plays the impressively named Rembrandt Macy, a fella who fits the typical noir template of a maverick cop with a predilection for chain smoking. Frequently paired with a glass of Johnnie Walker Red, he’s prone to a life of solitude, where he no doubt mulls over his next rule-breaking whim; traits that serve to accentuate the brooding, melancholic nature of this classic Cardone character. Called to work a case that begins with the discovery of a severed hand, Macy finds himself embroiled in an investigation that will take him to the brink. Optimism is found in a growing rapport with Nikki (Lori Heuring), the flatmate of the deceased who, despite her proximity to the case, winds up bedding down on Macy’s sofa – much to the disapproval of his fellow law enforcers who question the virtue of the sultry blonde.

What starts in perfunctory cop drama fashion, almost akin to a generic episode of some Dick Wolf episodic outing, swiftly becomes a glimpse into an unforgiving world of underage sex, gang warfare, and sickening depravity. Shot on the streets of Toronto, True Blue is lensed with the most luxurious (and title appropriate) blue tint from cinematographer Darko Suvak, who injects the film with a glorious neo-noir texture.

“It was only the second time I had used Darko,” remembers Cardone. “He shot Alien Hunter (2003) for us with Jimmy Spader, and I just really admired his work. Are you familiar with Robert Siodmak’s film The Killers (1946)? Because I wanted True Blue to be in that vein. The burned-out cop etc… It was a great, fun cast to work with, and the first time I worked with Lori too, and that other girl who I think passed away quite recently.”

Ah, yes, the late, great Pamela Gidley, who enhanced every single project she was in; from playing Teresa Banks in Twin Peaks, to toplining the barely seen but brilliant creature feature Aberration (1997). She’s great here, too, as the most vocal dissident of Macy’s infatuation with the mysterious Nikki.

Berenger rightly deserves plaudits for his gritty portrayal of a cop teetering on the edge, but it’s Heuring who captures your attention. It’s easy to see why Cardone cast her in four subsequent movies.

“She’s VERY good at what she does,” says Cardone emphatically. “Lori is very malleable, and a very good writer too. She has a project right now that I’m looking at from the standpoint of television. She’s incredibly professional, and I really enjoy working with her.”

Perhaps the most satisfying sight in True Blue‘s impressive ensemble is that of Barry Newman. There’s a pleasing connective kismet to his presence. After all, Cardone’s previous picture, Outside Ozona (1998), was a road movie set to the dulcet tones of a radio station disc jockey – as was Richard C. Sarafian’s iconic Vanishing Point (1973) which, of course, starred a young Newman.

“Everything has a story to it!” admits the director. “Carol’s first SAG role was a TV series that Barry did in old Tucson called Petrocelli, so when casting brought up his name, Carol was keen because he was part of her history. He was fun. And I thought I did a good job with the script too [laughs].”

Premiering in the U.S. on cable network Starz at 9PM on Thursday 29th November 2001, True Blue made its video and DVD bow the following spring courtesy of Columbia-TriStar. More readily available than many of the other movies in Cardone’s canon, it nevertheless remains one of the best kept secrets from the turn of the millennium.

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