Street Kings – Review

2008’s first great crime film has arrived

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Director: David Ayer
Notable Cast:
Keanu Reeves, Chris Evans, Common, The Game, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie

When one is successful in any profession, in terms of being at the top, you earn what some have called “walk away money.” That is you have enough stored in the bank that you can walk away at any point and have a comfortable lifestyle for many years. With the success of The Matrix and its sequels, Keanu Reeves used some savvy to gain a considerable fortune from the sequels to leverage himself to a point where he could walk away at any point from being a famous actor.

Arguably his career has never been better since that point, as the quality of films he’s taken on has increased due to his ability to choose the projects he takes. While his career is littered with a lot of success, from Point Break and Speed to The Matrix trilogy, there are plenty of stinkers that litter the highway of the Keanu Reeves’ cinematic resume. It’s interesting to see what he’s done in the time since he earned his walk away money. After not having a major release since A Scanner Darkly, Reeves is back with Street Kings.

Directed by David Ayer, who wrote Training Day, Street Kings follows LAPD officer Tom Ludlow (Reeves) in an exploration of his career. Ludlow hasn’t been able to cope effectively with the death of his wife, taking insane risks on the job and being rewarded for it. Much like Alonzo in Training Day, Ludlow is the personification of the “wolf among the sheep” motif that Ayer developed for Denzel Washington and seems to be his burgeoning metaphor for the life of a police officer. When Ludlow is implicated in the death of a fellow officer, he has to go against the sort of police culture he’s been a part of for many years. Juxtaposed against this story is his boss (Forest Whitaker), who has been his mentor since he was a rookie, as well as an Internal Affairs captain (Hugh Laurie) who wants Ludlow to become a snitch on his unit. Spiraling out of control with the death of his former partner, it’s up to Ludlow to find himself out between a rock and a hard place.

It’s an interesting concept and Ayer is pretty familiar with the territory of the crime film, but Ayer finds plenty of material to mine to keep it interesting. His motif of the “wolf among sheep” as protector, as opposed to poacher, is something he explored in Training Day and it’s interesting to see how he explores it here. Ludlow isn’t a dirty cop, but he isn’t a good one by definition either. He doesn’t take money, but he pushes the boundaries of acceptable behavior for his profession. As the film moves forward, we see Tom go from being a police officer who pushes the rules to one evaluating the consequences of a career filled with pushing the envelope.

For Ayer, it is a matter of story as opposed to acting. He has a top notch cast, which helps, but the star is the film’s script. This is a tight story that mirrors a lot of what he did with Training Day; Street Kings is derivative of that film enough to be noticeable but not annoying. He gets good but not great performances from his primary cast, including Reeves. Reeves may never be a world class actor, but given the right role and the right director he shines. His charisma is good enough to carry the film, but he obviously worked extremely hard on his part and the film. It shows in how he does little things, like handle a weapon and follow police procedures, and it gives the film the sort of credibility it needs to be a crime film in the modern era.

The downside is that Ayer cribs a lot from his prior crime flicks, including Dark Blue, and it takes away from this film somewhat. Sometimes Ayer dictates his next step from his prior films with similar moments, taking away a bit from where he wants to take this flick. He’s trying to continue to establish this as another in what’s a trilogy of films involving hard-nosed cops who push the line that he started in Dark Blue, but he telegraphs a lot of what he’s going to do.

This isn’t The Departed, Miami Vice, American Gangster, No Country for Old Men, Brick or any of another half dozen crime films that are nearly perfect or masterpieces in and of themselves. It is, however, a terrific film that’ll probably go down in the top crime films of the decade.


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