Street Kings
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Street Kings

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When it comes time to pick a flick to watch with friends on a Saturday night there is nothing that beats a good old fashion action movie. Mostly people go for the mindless movie that is little more than a bare minimum of plot to give a break from the action. This has been the variation of the genre that has gained ascendancy of late but it is good to be reminded that there is another type of action movie. This one has a strong story full of twists an turns that requires the audience to pay attention to every frame not just the gun fights and explosions. One prime example of this second type of action movie is ‘Street Kings’ by David Ayer. On the surface this is a film about a rogue police officer who has to prove his innocence; a topic we have seen all too many times in the past. What elevates this movie above the rest is its presentation. It tries to depict a culture built on strict hierarchy and punctuated by violence, the police force. It would be difficult to show this without touching on the effect it has on the people in such a sub culture. The film is the type that tends to do better with the audience than the critics. It has many technical missteps that would degrade any critical appraisal of its merits. The bottom line is it more than made back the $20 million budget so the seats were getting filled. After watching this film it became apparent why there is such a discrepancy. Reviews focus on the cinematic merits of a film while the fans want to be satisfied with what they paid to see it. This is an overall satisfying action film that engages the audience as well as entertaining. Now, the film is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Fox Entertainment and you can pop it in the player at home and decide for yourself. Just get into the story and let the action take you away and you should have a very good time.

This film was fortunate enough to have a group of excellent writers in charge of the screenplay. The original story was by James Ellroy who also assisted in the script. Ellroy is one of the best in the business for crime dramas involving seriously damaged and crooked police officers. His previous novels have included the like of ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘The Black Dahlia’. He is well known for his complex story lines and dialogue that comes off as clipped made of sentence fragments. Joining Ellroy is Kurt Wimmer who also has a good sized list of credits. His scripts have ranged from crime dramas like ‘The Recruit’ and ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ to more science fiction and fantasy with ‘Ultraviolet’ and ‘Sphere’. Also in on the writing here is a newcomer making his freshman effort, Jamie Moss. Typically of a crime story based on an Ellroy concept this one has at its center a young officer who is beset by problems both of a personal and professional nature. He is recently widowed and works in a unit that gets things done but doesn’t particularly play by the rules or laws. This sets up a moral quagmire for the protagonist. He wants to get the criminals off the street but he still has a modicum of respect for the laws he is sworn to uphold. This is what differentiates this from the run of the mill action movie. There is a moral and social perspective that is brought out to keep the audience thinking. Society wants criminals off the streets and punished yet the law makers always seem to work to make things more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs. This harkens back to a very old concept of justice here in the States. When a old west sheriff caught a murderer he didn’t read him his rights before shooting him. There is a part in the back of many American’s minds that still long for these old fashion ideas and secretly want them back in some form or another. This film taps in to that collective unconscious feeling. What also works is the morally ambiguous characters shown here. Usually this makes for a more interesting story since it makes it more difficult to guess what action a character will take. With the classic action thriller the good and bad guys are so well defined that the story unfolds as expected. Here there is a little sense of wondering thrown in.

This story has been floating around the Hollywood studios for well over a decade. At times directors like Spike Lee, David Fincher, and Oliver Stone were all associated with it. In the end the task went to David Ayer. Now it usually bodes ill when something like this happens; major directors pass and a relative unknown takes the helm. Ayer’s only previous work as a director was for ‘Harsh Times’, an urban action flick with Christian Bale and Eva Longoria Parker. It received a lukewarm reception by critics and audiences and was considered too heavy handed in style. Ayer is best known for his writing and scored with hits that included ‘S.W.A.T.’, ‘Training Day’, ‘U-571’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious’. The man knows action flicks at least from the typewriter’s perspective. He has reigned in his style a bit here creating a more subtle feel to the movie. His use of shadows playing off the light is excellent in creating and sustaining the mood. He has come up with something rare, a thinking person’s action thriller. Actually, this movie is better appreciated as a thriller than a straightforward action flick.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer who is disenchanted with his job. He enjoys being an officer but his surrounding are far from what they taught in the police academy. He is still upset over the recent death of his wife and copes to some degree by throwing himself in his job. Like other officers in his unit Ludlow is prone to bend the rules to the point of breaking. Even the captain in charge of the unit, Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) has been known to do what they deem as necessary to get the criminals to justice. Ludlow’s former partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) comes down with a bad case of morality and reports the unit to internal affairs. Heading up the investigation against Ludlow is IA Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie). Ludlow wants to confront his former friend but things go wrong when a hit on Washington is made and all signs point to Ludlow as the murder. Now Ludlow must avoid internal affairs while tracking down the true killer and exonerate himself.

This is not the best around but it is a lot better than you might have read about. Fox has done a fantastic job of bringing the film to DVD and Blu-ray. The DTS-HD audio is incredible. It is clear, well balance and gives you more detail in the soundstage than you might have through possible, Typical of many new releases from Fox there is a second disc included with a digital copy of the film. Try this one out, you will not be disappointed.

Posted 08/09/08

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