Mary Stuart Masterson in Black and Blue (1999)

Fleeing from the Enemy

Frances Benedetto (Mary Stuart Masterson) had loved Bobby (Anthony LaPaglia), he got her in a way no other man ever did, the only trouble is he abused her as well, leaving her body covered with bruises for no reason at all. It is because she loved him and that they had a son together that she put up with his beatings for a long time. Well for that reason and because Bobby was a New York City detective and Frances knew that cops protect their own, she had even seen Bobby get away with breaking the law because he carried a badge. But eventually she had enough and along with their son Robert (Will Rothhaar) seeks help and goes into a witness protection program, saying goodbye to everything she knew to start a new life in Florida where she met a much nicer man. But it doesn't take long for Bobby to use his skills and contacts to start tracking her down.

"Black and Blue" in many ways reminds me of "Sleeping with the Enemy" but with a few differences starting with the fact that here we are talking a TV movie which is based on a true story. But unlike some TV movies "Black and Blue" is a lot more effective and certainly doesn't hold back when it comes to the abuse which we witness. It also benefits from a fantastic cast including Mary Stuart Masterson and Anthony LaPaglia who get into their characters and bring out the painful depth of the story.

Anthony LaPaglia and Mary Stuart Masterson in Black and Blue (1999)

Now "Black and Blue" starts with an almost artsy shot as we see Frances taking a shower, except between the water and the moody lighting we see the bruises which cover her body, big, dark marks from various beatings. Yet as this scene ends we see what we know is pretty normal and as Frances enters the bedroom Bobby puts his arms around her and shows her affection. There are more of these sorts of scenes which I hate to say are cliche of domestic violence movies as we see how one minute Bobby is violent and the next sorry and caring.

Now the opening third of "Black and Blue" is hard hitting as we witness Frances' life with Bobby, how he constantly disrespects her in private but also is extremely violent towards her. The ferocity of these scenes, the pure aggression in the beatings is harrowing but so very real as is the way we watch Frances deal with them. But we also see that despite not actually physically harming their son he is still abused by witnessing how his father treats his mother. On top of this it also establishes how Bobby is popular with everyone and as a cop gets away with what ever he wants. This eventually evolves as Frances takes the tough decision to seek help and in her particular case that means completely starting a new in a witness protection program because of Bobby being a cop. I won't go into any more detail but as pointed out "Black and Blue" reminded me of "Sleeping with the Enemy" as Frances starts a new life whilst Bobby goes after Frances.

All of this is fantastically crafted to make very real the battered wife situation from the actual violence and the emotion upheaval of leaving to in this particular case the complexity of the situation. Much of this is down to the brilliant acting with firstly Mary Stuart Masterson not only doing a good job of showing the complexity of being a battered wife, but then the fear when she decides to act and a lot more. But Anthony LaPaglia is equally good and frankly terrifying as Bobby, bringing a real darkness to the role much more than you will find in any other TV movie which deals with domestic abuse. But there is also Will Rothhaar who as the son is not only highly effective in those early scenes as we see him hurting from seeing his mum abused but just as effective in feeling conflicted when they run away and dealing with Frances becoming friends with a teacher.

What this all boils down to is that "Black and Blue" is very powerful because not only does it deliver a hard hitting look at domestic abuse but also manages to do so with a story which helps to make it flow.