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Review: Street Kings (2008)

Street Kings (2008)

Directed by: David Ayer

Premise: A flawed police detective (Keanu Reeves) with good intentions investigates the death of a fellow officer and begins to uncover connections between the department and gangland.

What Works: Street Kings is an effective police thriller in the vein of the street films of the 1960s and 70s like Shaft, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry although told through contemporary filmmaking styles. Street Kings’ story was written by James Ellroy and the contemporary setting and gritty violence of the film are a step away from the setting and tone of other Ellroy’s adaptations like L.A. Confidential. Ellroy and co-screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss create a competent balance between action and drama and delve into police relations with the urban community in an intelligent way. Keanu Reeves, who has had a choppy acting career, gives one of his best performances in this film, stretching himself just enough as an actor and maintaining the credibility of the character. The other performance in the film that is particularly strong is Forest Whitaker as Reeves’ police commander. The role is written with more complexity than is usually expected from a film like this and Whitaker’s performance elevates the film to a higher level. As a film, Street Kings is put together well, moving along briskly and transitioning smartly between scenes.

What Doesn’t: Street Kings is a police procedural without any of the procedure. The film spends no time on the actual science of police forensics or corroborating witnesses or anything else resembling actual detective work. Although the story moves along well, it also sacrifices narrative cohesion and leaves some sizable holes along the way.

Bottom Line: Street Kings is part of a resurgence in street films in the past year (following the success of The Departed) that includes We Own the Night, The Brave One, Death Sentence, and American Gangster. This is about as good as any of those films and makes for a solid police film, even if it is more like Death Wish than Zodiac.

Episode: #186 (April 20, 2008)