A pair of racist galoot cops pull over and then shoot down the son of a city's only black judge in the opening moments of River Runs Red, an earnest indie drama. The acting is stiff, the pacing sluggish, the framing uncertain, the music an intrusive mush and the scenario schematic. But it's an interesting schematic, at least, complete with thoughtful/exhaustive discussion of the difference between justice, revenge and forgiveness. And Taye Diggs, who plays the judge, is commanding enough a lead that I'd love to see him play this role again in a movie that wasn't so often a shambles or that didn't collapse, in the end, into dreary fantasies of violent revenge. This starts as a shoe-leather thriller about a man who has achieved success within a corrupt system now seeing his child murdered and smeared by that system. What change can he bring from the inside? What trespasses of law does the greater justice demand?
You'll have plenty of time to consider such questions during the final third's indifferent action sequences, including one fight where every cut, compositional choice and sound effect seem crafted to emphasize the fact that nobody on set actually got punched. George Lopez shows up as a mechanic whose son was killed by the same galoots; too bad his scenes with Diggs play like the filmmakers couldn't get a second take. The car chase has a good gag, but why does this movie have a car chase? Also, points must be deducted for playing the tender R&B ballad over the judge's romantic takeout dinner with his police officer wife (Jennifer Tao) rather than, like, letting us hear what these two talk about.