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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » July 9, 2008
Film review
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Street Kings
July 9, 2008   
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Police drama Street Kings is director David Ayer's second movie, following on from Harsh Times of 2005. The two screenwriters of the new film, James Ellroy and Kurt Wimmer, are much better known than Ayer. Ellroy wrote the short story that became the basis for Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential of 1997, regarded as one of the best cop dramas ever, while Wimmer wrote the scripts for the futuristic dystopia Equilibrium and the crime story The Thomas Crown Affair. Teaming up, the two writers have come up with a gloomy, brutal and very bloody story set in an elite police department in Los Angeles.

Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves-The Matrix trilogy, Constantine, The Devil's Advocate) is a workaholic whose police job police has started to alarmingly resemble that of a hitman. In the opening scenes of Street Kings, Ludlow single-handedly and in cold blood (admittedly, he is somewhat drunk, which seems to be a habit both on and off duty) massacres a Korean gang of child kidnappers, rescuing two 14-year-old girls who were evidently destined for the internet pedophile market. Afterwards, he meticulously rearranges the scene to make his version of events-that he was shooting in self-defense-plausible when police ballistics experts arrive.

Moviegoers were introduced to the forerunner of Reeves's character back in the 1970s by Clint Eastwood and his Harry Callaghan, better known as Dirty Harry. The 21st century Dirty Harry is much more brutal and uses much more deadly weapons, as do his adversaries, but he faces the same dilemma: is a police officer entitled to resort to any means necessary to carry out his job and do criminals have any rights at all?

"I can't afford to lose you. Who'd do what you do?" Ludlow hears from his boss, Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker-The Last King of Scotland, Ghost Dog, Species). Wander has some reason to worry, as Capt. James Biggs from the Internal Department (Hugh Laurie-Sense & Sensibility, Stuart Little), has started keeping a watchful eye on "L.A.'s deadliest white boy," as Ludlow's ex-partner, African-American Det. Terrence Washington (Terry Crews-The Sixth Day) calls him, with unconcealed dislike. In all likelihood, Washington is working with Biggs as an informer on his fellow officers.

A furious and drunk-as-usual Ludlow follows Washington and resolves to beat him senseless, but when they are in a small liquor store, two masked bandits armed with large machine guns appear out of nowhere. Under a hail of bullets, the officers are completely powerless. Washington dies and while Ludlow makes it out in one piece, it is clearly another wrong-place-wrong-time situation for him. Everybody, including Washington's widow Linda (Naomie Harris-Pirates of the Caribbean), suspects Ludlow of arranging a hit job and so Ludlow has to start a private investigation to clear his name. He finds an initially reluctant helper in a young and ambitious detective named Paul Diskant (Chris Evans-Fantastic Four, Cellular), who is probing Washington's death. What they discover together turns out to be more frightening than they could have ever imagined.

Despite some gaps in the script and lots of implausible events (Ludlow manages to escape from situations where escape looks impossible), Street Kings is a decent action movie. As you leave the theater, you just cannot resist the impression that in L.A. it is much safer to come face to face with a bandit than a police officer.
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