I’ve always loved a good movie that explores corruption, including police corruption. Serpico and LA Confidential are both high on my list of personal film favorites. David Ayer’s (Training Day) Street Kings, now out on DVD, is also about police corruption, but with a slightly different take. Like LA Confidential, Street Kings was penned by novelist James Ellroy.
Street Kings stars Keanu Reeves as Tom Ludlow, a vice cop. Still mourning the loss of his murdered wife, Ludlow is an alcoholic with little regard for anyone he perceives as a “bad guy.” He has a maverick’s “take no prisoners” attitude that one might more readily see on the battlefield than on the streets of LA (or is that the point?). His boss, police captain Wander (played by Last King of Scotland’s Forest Whitaker with a strange affect and stranger New Jersey-ish accent) keeps covering up Ludlow’s activities, telling him that he’s “needed” on the force — in vice. In fact, everyone seems to value Ludlow, and is intent on protecting him, including the enigmatic Internal Affairs director, Captain James Biggs (House, MD’s Hugh Laurie).
After Ludlow is implicated in the murder of his ex-partner Washington, who supposedly has been talking with the Internal Affairs Division, Ludlow is determined to find out why Washington was killed and by whom.
There are no real good guys in this story, so it’s hard to know who to root for, even though the main character is played by Reeves, and everything tells you that he’s the good dude in a world of bad cops and worse gang-bangers and drug dealers. But it’s hard to root for an assassin-cop, even if it’s only the bad guys he’s after. I wanted to know more about what drove these characters. How did Ludlow’s wife’s unresolved murder (only so lightly touched upon) affect Ludlow’s approach to police work? Was he an assassin before his wife died?
The acting is quite good all round. Reeves is cast against type as a tough cop and does a good job. Whitaker, despite the dodgy accent, is as menacing as he was in Last King — a quiet voice, an affable exterior mask a pretty disturbing soul. Laurie, who has matured into a terrific character actor, plays the cold and calculating, but enigmatic, Biggs to perfection.
Street Kings is a well-made guy-flick. Pretty predictable, but with lots of blood and guts, lots of shooting and killing and swearing — and very good performances by all. Not much character exploration as, but then again, it’s not really that sort of a film — more action film than “thriller.” Not sure it was really going to be my cup of tea, I found myself absorbed in the action and the story. (And I’m not a guy.)
The DVD, a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, comes with a host of extras, including a commentary by director David Ayer, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and several featurettes covering everything from casting the film to the stunts.