23 May 2008

STREET KINGS (Dir. David Ayer, 2008, US) - It's official, Keanu Reeve's can act.

Genre film making comes naturally to Hollywood and nobody can quite match their appreciation for formulaic cinema. Street Kings is the latest film from David Ayer who wrote the screenplay to the Denzel Washington Oscar winning, Training Day. David Ayer made his debut last year with ‘Harsh Times’, this time starring Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriquez. Street Kings is David Ayer’s third foray into the crime genre, and he directs again but this time from a screenplay penned by the famous crime novelist James Elroy.

Aside from a weak plot that involves the familiar corrupt cop betrayed by those closest to him and a poorly directed film, (David Ayer is a writer who thinks he is an inspired director – somebody needs to give him a reality check), the one and only strength of this genre piece lies in the surprisingly effective and career best performance from the typically wooden Keanu Reeves. Yes, that’s right, Keanu Reeves can act, and he puts in a wonderfully troubled performance as a corrupt police detective who wanders the wastelands of a noirish Los Angeles.

Film stars have always sought to be recognised as credible film actors and Keanu Reeves is someone who has never been able to escape from the jibes to do with his surfing lingo and robotic performance style. The Matrix films have grudgingly given him a place in film history and the impressive action film, Point Break, is today considered to be one of the best contemporary examples of the genre, but none of these films are really referred to in terms of the quality performances on display. (Let's not forget the classic 'Speed' and the recent 'A Scanner Darkly') The problem with making three crime films in a row means that the likelihood of falling foul of repetition is very high, and of course, this is the case with Street Kings as it feels too similar to Training Day and Harsh Times, and thus it does not say anything new about corrupt cops.

So what is it about this performance that stands apart from the rest of Keanu Reeve’s career? Well, to begin with, Keanu Reeves has reached a point in his career where he has accepted his position as a competent performer who is limited in the types of roles he can take on, and that he will never be able to be taken seriously as an actor. Another aspect that makes critics and audiences slowly accept stars as actors has to do with age – this is the first film in which Keanu Reeves shows his age as an actor and he in no way tries to disguise this aspect, and by showing his age it is much more convincing for us to accept him portraying a corrupt cop. However, he is disadvantaged by a largely unfulfilling narrative and a poorly written screenplay that is dominated by superficial and empty lines of dialogue, mostly reserved for Forest Whittaker’s weakly underwritten role.

Overall, Street Kings is a disappointing film because it adheres strictly to our expectations and the film ends with an absurd confrontation between two cops in which the audience is bludgeoned to death with dreary speeches on ethics and rules, all of which belongs in the confines of TV melodrama. It seems as though almost any crime film that is made today by Hollywood will continue to stand firmly in the shadow of HBO's masterful crime series, The Wire.


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