In contemporary Los Angeles, there are more than 600 street gangs. Their approximately 70,000 members are urban warriors who have had their resentments honed and hardened in the slums. Gangs present a formidable engine of mayhem: last year there were nearly 400 gang-related killings nationwide. In Colors, Robert Duvall and Sean Penn are part of a Los Angeles Police Department special task force created to contain gang crime. The "Crips" and the "Bloods" are at war. But the rumbles with switch-blade knives and baseball bats are a relic of the past. Now these drug-dealing organizations use semi-automatic rifles to blow away members of rival gangs.

Director Dennis Hopper captures the random violence which is at the heart of life in the ghettoes of Los Angeles. Alarmed by the spread of armed gangs, community residents have no one to protect them. Neither the low-key pragmaticism of Duvall's veteran cop nor the get-tough tactics of his younger partner can do much to stem the rising tide of violence. Although Colors provides no answers to this intractacble urban problem, it does make it clear that the mixture of drug-use, guns and youthful nihilism adds up to a toxic urban time bomb.