Colors is a 1988 American police procedural action crime film starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall, and directed by Dennis Hopper. The film takes place in the gang ridden neighborhoods of Los Angeles; late-1980s' South Central Los Angeles, Echo Park, Westlake and East Los Angeles, and centers on Bob Hodges (Duvall), an experienced Los Angeles Police Department C.R.A.S.H. officer, and his rookie partner, Danny McGavin (Penn), who try to stop the gang violence between the Bloods, the Crips, and Hispanic street gangs. Colors relaunched Hopper as a director 19 years after Easy Rider, and inspired discussion over its depiction of gang life and gang violence.

Colors film.jpg
Original film poster
Directed byDennis Hopper
Produced byRobert H. Solo
Screenplay byMichael Schiffer
Story byRichard Di Lello
Michael Schiffer
Music byHerbie Hancock
CinematographyHaskell Wexler
Edited byRobert Estrin
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
April 15, 1988
Running time
120 min. (original release)
127 min. (Director's Cut)
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million
Box office$46,616,067 (domestic)[1]


Two white cops, Bob "Uncle Bob" Hodges, a respected 19-year LAPD officer and Vietnam veteran, and rookie officer Danny McGavin have just been teamed together in the C.R.A.S.H. unit that patrols Northwest L.A., East L.A. and South Central L.A.

The older cop is appreciated on the local streets. He is diplomatic on the surface, preaching "rapport" to gang members to encourage them to offer help when it is truly needed and recognizes that every action cops take is scrutinized by the very people they are trying to help. Hodges explains his view on policing to his young partner with a joke about bulls and cows. Although the pair bond quickly, life lessons are seemingly lost on the aggressive, cavalier McGavin, whose stunted actions soon bring him quick notoriety with the local gang members and the people themselves, such as attacking a graffiti "artist" by spraying his eyes with the paint can. When McGavin wrecks their first unmarked car during a pursuit, its replacement, painted a vivid yellow, results in McGavin being nicknamed "Pac-Man" by officers and gang members alike.

McGavin also has a short lived romance with a waitress named Louisa who, like the offended Hodges, feels the weight of the Pac-Man persona. Amidst the strains of these relationships, the murder of a Bloods gang member leads to a series of escalations between two other street gangs. A series of seemingly random incidents culminates in a plot that finds the two partners in the middle of the Crips, Bloods and Hispanic Barrio war. The 21st Street Gang, led by a criminal named Frog, attempts to negotiate a peace similar to Hodges and steer clear of the melee. To protect his partner, Hodges unwittingly exposes Frog as his source on the Crips leader Rocket with his scheme to kill McGavin. Each group attempts to right the wrongs against their respective crews as police work to prevent the hit and stand their authority over the fall out.

In the end, the unit moves in on the would-be last crew standing—the 21st Street Gang. While arresting Frog, Hodges is fatally shot by a gunman trying to enact the hit on McGavin. With medics en route, McGavin comforts Hodges and breaks down with regret as the elder partner falls into delirium and dies.

Sometime later, a more reserved McGavin has a rookie partner, a black cop who grew up in the neighborhood where they patrol and sports an attitude similar to the "Pac-Man". McGavin tells him the same joke about the bulls that Hodges taught him, and the younger officer reciprocates in the same way as the younger McGavin did. The film ends with McGavin considering the cycle as the pair drive on and continue their patrol.



The movie was filmed entirely in Los Angeles in 1987. The original script by Richard Di Lello took place in Chicago and was more about drug dealing than gang members. Dennis Hopper ordered changes, so Michael Schiffer was hired and the setting was changed to Los Angeles and the focus of the story became more about the world of gang members.

The joke that Hodges tells McGavin regarding the two bulls was lifted from the Pat Conroy novel The Great Santini (which was made into a movie that also starred Duvall) and explains how the character Lt. Col. "Bull" Meechum got his nickname.[2]

Real gang members were hired as guardians as well as actors by producer Robert H. Solo. Two of them were shot during filming.

On April 2, 1987, Sean Penn was arrested for punching an extra on the set of this film who was taking photos of him without permission. Penn was sentenced to 33 days in jail for this assault.


A soundtrack containing mainly hip hop music was released on April 15, 1988, by Warner Bros. Records. It peaked at 31 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold on July 12, 1988.


The movie received both praise and criticism. The film currently has an 81% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews, with the consensus; "Colors takes a hard-hitting yet nuanced look at urban gang violence, further elevated by strong performances from a pair of well-matched leads."[3]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times stated that it "has a superb eye for the poisonous flowering of gang culture amid ghetto life, and an ear to match; along with brilliant cinematography by Haskell Wexler, it's also got a fierce, rollicking sense of motion."[4]

Roger Ebert hailed it as "a special movie – not just a police thriller, but a movie that has researched gangs and given some thought to what it wants to say about them."[5]

The Washington Post's critics, Desson Howe and Hal Hinson were split, with Howe stating that Hopper "covers the mayhem with unadorned, documentary immediacy that transcends otherwise formulaic cop-fare"[6] and Hinson stating that it "must be the least incendiary film about gang life ever made."[7]

One of the more negative reviews of the film appeared on the BBC's Ceefax service, on which critic Louise Hart remarked: “The main weakness of the film is that it concentrates far less on the street gangs than on the growing relationship between the two cops.”[8]

Box officeEdit

The movie earned over $46 million in its domestic release.[9]


  1. ^ Colors at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ P. Conroy,The Great Santini, 1989, pg. 394
  3. ^ "Colors". Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  4. ^ Janet Maslin (April 15, 1988). "Colors (1988) Review/Film; Police vs. Street Gangs In Hopper's 'Colors'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (April 15, 1988). "Colors". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  6. ^ Desson Howe (April 15, 1988). "Colors". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  7. ^ Hal Hinson (April 15, 1988). "Colors". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  8. ^ BBC "Ceefax" review (p264)
  9. ^ LEONARD KLADY (1989-01-08). "Box Office Champs, Chumps : The hero of the bottom line was the 46-year-old 'Bambi' – Page 2". Retrieved 2012-07-06.

External linksEdit