"Phone Book Tom, the last of the ghetto gunfighters."
I watched Street Kings for the second time yesterday. Now before you start assuming that I think Keanu's new thriller is the best thing since sliced bread, think again. A repeat viewing is not necessarily a seal of approval. Certain movies push certain buttons, or maybe we just feel the need to watch particular actors or sequences again. To see how they stand up on the second attempt. Re-evaluation is not a bad thing.
I recently started reading American Tabloid, by the crime writer James Ellroy. Ellroy is the major contributor to the script of Street Kings, and it shows. To good effect. Ellroy is able to flesh out characters, evoke social and political climates with ease and interject enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. It seems that director David Ayer took a look at his directorial debut Harsh Times and felt that, with Street Kings, he wanted more interesting characters, not just the amoral and unsympathetic types that dominate his first outing at the helm. Ayer scored a hit with the script to Training Day, and has virtually found himself a niche with films like this. As I've mentioned in a previous post, who else is making them? Post 911 it seems like no-one. Sure, every week we see a new release of stalk-and-slash torture porn, but very few actioners. Maybe Americans find it easier to detach themselves from the increasingly supernatural or vulnerable tourists-in-Europe style of horror, than the gun in hand "I'm gonna get my revenge!" flick.
The acting isnt too bad. No matter what you say about Keanu Reeves, he is easy to watch and has a certain on-screen presence. In this, Ayer has encouraged him to come out of his skin somewhat. Reeves plays hardened LA cop Tom Ludlow. Ludlow is a veteran; he's seen far too much and you can tell. Waking up he has his gun in his hand. Leaving his house, he holds his holstered automatic like a weapon. Borderline racist, he uses throwaway street slang without a care for who he may offend. His biggest fan is Captain Jack Wander, played by Forest Whitaker. Basking in the light of his Best Actor Oscar win for The Last King of Scotland, you can tell Whitaker loves taking these smaller roles, especially ambiguous characters like Warden. Is Ludlow doing Warden's dirty work? Or is he making LA safer by taking out the criminals?
The death of an ex-partner uncovers a web of lies and murder. Ludlow teams up with a young detective played by Chris Evans and comes up against dirty cops, undercover officers turned rogue and department coverups. Watch this movie if you liked Ayer's previous efforts as it benefits greatly from the inclusion of extra script writers, particularly Ellroy, achieving an intricacy of characters and plotlines devoid in Harsh Times. The actors have a lot of fun with their roles, particularly Reeves, as he is allowed to embrace the cocky, brash and weathered character of Tom Ludlow. Chris Evans is fine as his reluctant partner, showing that he handle his own in supporting roles aswell as leading ones. Even Hugh Laurie does a standup job as Internal Affairs Captain Biggs, displaying none of the nasal smugness so evident in House. There is however a pretty lame confrontation between Laurie's Captain Biggs and Whitaker's Captain Wander that doesnt convince, although it gave me the impression that the actors were having as much fun as the writers.