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Street Kings 

Whether you laugh at the first scene of Street Kings determines everything. It's instantly established that LA cop Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a hardass, because after hitting his alarm, he cocks his gun and then gets out of bed. Director David Ayer tries walking a line between serious crime drama and B-movie excess, and when he works that combo, Street Kings ignites. It's the story's predictability and need for simple (and false) moral resolve that lets it down. Ayer's past scripts for Training Day, Dark Blue and The Fast and the Furious all deal in people acting within the law with a personal sense of conduct. As Mad Max once put it, "I'm a terminal psychotic, except I've got this bronze badge that says I'm one of the good guys." Ayer's refusal to glorify police violence separates him from the vast majority of action filmmakers. When Street Kings suggests Tom's corruption, it has the exciting feeling of being about to veer off the rails. Having opened fire on a house of Korean men linked to a kidnapping, Tom is accused by his black ex-partner Washington (Terry Crews) of racist power-tripping, of needlessly killing victims. "Not victims! Suspects," Tom answers, as though suspects aren't victims when you've murdered them. It's Reeves' most-dimensional performance, and his credibility is unprecedented. But Street Kings only functions in this moral ambiguity: a finale that tries celebrating Tom as a hero negates its strengths. As Tom investigates the lengths that his boss (Forest Whitaker) may have taken to protect him, there's a revelation at the end that only surprised me because I thought I was expected to have guessed as much in the film's first quarter. Ayer delivers one of the most authentic depictions of the look and feel of Los Angeles in mainstream cinema. Reeves' angry cavorting through its nightlife gives the flick its unbalanced thrill. Appearances by The Game and Common rise above rap-star cameos as memorable supporting characters. There's wit here. Then the explanations and excuses come in.

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Vol 26, No 17
September 20, 2018

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