Street Kings

Director David Ayer, starring Keanu Reeves (Detective Tom Ludlow), Forest Whittaker (Captain Jack Wander), Hugh Laurie (Captain James Briggs), Terry Crews (Detective Terrance Washington).

Tom Ludlow is a rule-bending cop who nonetheless gets results because he kids himself he’s past caring and regularly tops himself up with vodka. His wife died after a brain haemorrhage but was in another man’s bed at the time. Ludlow only has a job because his captain’s prepared to keep the line and defines the truth as how you look at it. Familiar territory to James Ellroy, who co-wrote the script. His mark is also all over the staccato pace and macho dialogue that’s spat rather than said.

Ludlow’s ex-partner, Detective Washington, has reported him to Internal Affairs. Following Washington into a store, Ludlow becomes involved in a shoot out with two local thugs. The thugs are identified as Fremont and Coates but drugs were found in Washington’s car, implying he was selling on drugs taken as evidence. Off-duty Ludlow finds the bodies of Fremont and Coates, the state of the bodies mean they were clearly murdered long before Detective Washington was fatally shot. His captain, Wander, urges Ludlow to “turn the page and close the book” but Ludlow’s girlfriend says he shouldn’t turn his back on Washington. Giving a man who believes he has nothing to lose a sense of purpose is dangerous if you want to keep the status quo. Doesn’t take Ludlow long to work out he’s a pawn, but the question is whose and will it corrupt him in the process?

Keanu Reeves is credible as a grieving man fighting a losing battle with the chaos around him who knows he can’t trust anyone. Forest Whitaker as the politically ambitious captain, who regards knowing the dirt on everyone including his own unit as an insurance policy, is manic, slightly over-played now and then. Hugh Laurie reprises House albeit less grumpily but it’s a way of signalling to a British audience that he’s serious here. Terry Crews’ Washington is well-judged, a man who thought that the means didn’t matter if the end result was desirable but becomes sickened by the stench of corruption and coverts to an evangelist for Internal Affairs and at the same time can’t understand why his fellow cops don’t follow him.

The pace is intense. The action nonstop. And it stays that way as the plot twists and turns through the multi-ethnic mayhem and macho angst. It questions whether when you’re dealing with corruption and law-breaking on a daily basis don’t you become tainted too? Where corruption is rife, who’s the good guy? And just how wide a line separates police from criminal? Where are the women? Washington’s widow believes he was a good man but is packing for a new life elsewhere. Ludlow’s girlfriend is a slightly-drawn character who chides him for only seeing her when he gets shot. No surprise she’s also a nurse and hence knows her role in his life only too well. Frenetic but worth sticking with.

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