Eric German | Sunday, 23 November 2008

Holding back the animals - ***

For some time, the Eden Century cinema multiplex in Paceville has been screening some films which had been released before but which are given their second wind at the four E3 cinemas where one can catch up with films one may have missed for the reduced admission price of 3 Euros.
It’s a good incentive that benefits audiences and exhibitors alike and, as there are several films which I hadn’t reviewed, I tried it and I was glad that I did.
A member of an elite Los Angeles vice squad, Police Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is more concerned with ridding society of some of the more dangerous and elusive criminals than he is with observing proper police procedure.
His nemesis is his former partner, Terence Washington (Terry Crews), a black detective who regards Ludlow as a rogue cop even though he never takes bribes. Ludlow is fiercely protected by his longtime commanding officer Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) who approves of his illegal methods.
But because of Crews’ persistent reports, Ludlow is being investigated by Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) of Internal Affairs. When Crews is killed by two heavily armed thieves in a store where Ludlow is also present, he’s suspected of being behind the killing.
Wander protects Ludlow again but when it’s revealed that Crews was allegedly corrupt, he doesn’t believe it and teams up with homicide detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans) to carry out his own unofficial investigation.
The big opening shootout between a procedure-flaunting Ludlow and Asians who have kidnapped two young girls suggests a cop vigilante movie but Street Kings has a more interesting plot that’s well written and developed.
It progresses into an adult police thriller in which both its provocative questions and action are exciting. One of the questions it asks is that if we put cops like Ludlow behind bars for not observing proper police procedure when there’s more than a reasonable suspicion of guilt, “Who else is gonna hold back the animals?”
Alongside this, there gradually emerges the moral theme of large scale corruption within the higher echelons of the police force. Street Kings differs from so many other films about corrupt police because it deals with a different kind of corruption. To comment further would be to risk giving away too much.
A lot of the film unfolds in a strong atmosphere of rivalry, conflicts and hatred within the force. It generates so much heat that it’s very engrossing. It’s disappointing that the latter parts of the film are taken up with the personal investigation.
This has its action and excitement but it makes the film take a conventional turn. The pre-climactic action is far-fetched and the climactic showdown isn’t as surprising as the filmmakers may have thought.
Still, this remains a watchable film with a fine pedigree. Keanu Reeves gives a straightforward performance that’s in keeping with the character he plays but Forest Whitaker is much more flamboyant and he dominates every scene he appears in. And there’s a large cast of strong supporting players.
The three screenwriters include James Ellroy of L. A Confidential fame and director David Ayer, who gave us Training Day, has made a speciality of films with such a theme. On two important occasions, Street Kings doesn’t convince.
But Ayer, with his remarkable eye for detail and his vision of the action makes the film reminiscent of the better cop movies of the 1980s. Even with its shortcomings, Street Kings still has an edge over most of today’s police thrillers.

On opposite sides of the fence - **

Writer/director Mark Herman’s film is based on John Boyne’s 2006 young adult novel. Like the film, it’s about the friendship that grows between Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commander (David Thewlis) of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and Shmuel, a boy inmate.
The big difference between the two is that Boyne presented it as experienced by a boy by withholding the main details from the reader for a long time, whereas these details constitute the film’s key publicity. The poster leaves no doubt as to what it’s about and the trailer explains everything.
Without the novel’s technique and with much of its dialogue deleted, the film dwindles into a commonplace and slight story which unfolds without as much as a single spark of inspiration.
While the book was highly original, the film is so stale and routine as to seem to belong to a bygone era. It’s uneventful, slow, and gloomy and while it doesn’t quite exploit the Holocaust, Herman milks the melodrama in his script.
It’s impossible to take Bruno seriously as he’s exceptionally naïve. David Thewlis’ role is so underwritten that he comes and goes without ever registering as a character.
There are no German accents but several British ones leak out making it look as dissociated as past German history played out with British characters in settings that could be anywhere in Britain.
The only unmistakable character is Lt. Kotler (Rupert Friend) who’s required to go over the top to ensure that the film does have a nasty Nazi villain. The others all seem to have been brainwashed so successfully that the issue of guilt doesn’t even arise.
The only exceptions are the commandant’s mother, who gets one scene (two if you count her funeral) and two mentions, and his wife (Vera Farmiga). All the rest are stock characters in an unconvincing and unsatisfying film.
Given Herman’s lacklustre script, it’s not the fault of Asa Butterfield’s portrayal that Bruno remains a plot device which defies credibility. As Schmuel, Jack Scanlon arouses our sympathy without his having to beg for it.
The only good adult performance is that of Vera Farmiga who gives much more than the script deserves. Her performance, especially when it comes to portraying the gradual collapse of her world, is the only thing that’s worthy of the theme.
The expected ending is telegraphed from afar, accompanied by the cliché of a thunder storm and its irony is ruined by the contrived way it’s brought about. That it’s shocking isn’t due to any merit on the part of the filmmakers. For even in these Dark Ages of terrorism, man’s past inhumanity to man still has the power to shock.

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email