Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Street Kings


Directed by: David Ayer
Screenplay: James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer & David Ayer
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans & Hugh Laurie

Now this is how they used to make them. Tough, tense and taught with a good story backed up by great acting and great action. Street Kings is a no nonsense cop thriller that has no pretensions about being anything else. A good story well told, Street Kings follows somewhat dirty cop Tom Ludlow (Reeves), a guy only just on the right side of the law, not afraid of bending the rules to get the results he wants. A veteran, Ludlow has seen and done it all and is more than adept at handling himself in a tough situation. When his former partner, Washington (Terry Crews), threatens to blow the lid on some of his shady dealings, Ludlow decides to take his own action and teach his ex partner a lesson. When Washington is gunned down in a convenience store hold up, this shakes Ludlow out of his rage and he is determined to catch the killers, but not before his Captain (Whitaker) covers up the shooting as it may implicate Ludlow. Confused and slightly wary of his Captain and his fellow unit members, Ludlow sets about solving the crime without their assistance and finds corruption runs much deeper than his own soul.

A genuine surprise and riveting from beginning to end, Street Kings is an action thriller done right. With a gritty feel that captures the seediness at the heart of Los Angeles, David Ayer’s film captures the spirit of cop flicks and action films from a bygone time. No flashy editing or camera tricks and no extravagent special effects, just grit, great storytelling and superb acting. The ensemble cast (which also includes Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Naomie Harris, Jay Mohr, and Common) all dive into their roles with relish, spitting out the tough dialogue with panache. Forest Whitaker is his usual grand self staying the right side of ham and fusing his character with a blinding confidence that is his eventual downfall. But this film belongs to Keanu Reeves. He has rarely been better and gives an intense, measured performance as the tortured soul, Tom Ludlow. Never grandstanding but always in control and demanding your attention, Reeves is Street Kings emotional backbone. He may have his detractors but Reeves has always been a talented actor and gives us some of his best work here.

Reeves also commands in the action scenes. The action complements the story rather than dominating it. Harsh gunfire and brutal punch ups serve as the main ingredient and Ayer quite rightly keeps them grounded in reality. From the grocery store shootout to the scene where Ludlow takes out a bad guy using a fridge as a shield, the action is hard hitting and never flashy. We experience the tension and feel the pain. Ayer has developed a style at writing and shooting these hard edged LA police thrillers from Training Day and Dark Blue to Harsh Times. While it may not be as personal as Harsh Times, Street Kings is perhaps his best film, as the story, acting, shooting style and action all gel seamlessly. The advertising did not do it justice, almost selling it as a throw away urban action film. It’s not. Street Kings is smart, emotional and a ride worth taking and while it may feature some rap actors in small roles there is no hip hop on the soundtrack or pseudo posing here. Street Kings is a tough thriller like we used to make them and a film that deserves to be seen.

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