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Street Kings

Keanu Reeves in Street Kings

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE mean streets of LA have provided fertile hunting ground for David Ayer in recent years. His script for Training Day helped to win Denzel Washington the Academy Award for best actor, while Kurt Russell (Dark Blue) and Christian Bale (Harsh Times) have both thrived under his guidance.

Keanu Reeves is the latest to tap into his dark side, playing the type of cop who might make The Shield‘s Vic Mackey look tame. It’s a great role for him and he grabs the opportunity with relish, even though the film itself feels rough around the edges.

Reeves plays veteran LAPD cop Tom Ludlow, an emotional wreck still struggling to cope with the death of his wife, who goes about his business with a gun in one hand and a mini-bottle of vodka in the other. When a former colleague who has threatened to rat him out to Internal Affairs is gunned down, suspicion automatically falls on Ludlow, who is sidelined pending the outcome of an investigation and cover-up.

Spurred on by the remnants of a conscience, however, he conducts his own investigations and finds innumerable suspects among his own colleagues, including his own boss and mentor (Forest Whitaker).

Based upon a screenplay co-written by LA Confidential‘s James Ellroy (good), Ultraviolet‘s Kurt Wimmer (bad) and Jamie Moss (untested), Ayers’ film often feels like it’s lacking the clarity of a single vision. It’s also a little too familiar.

Reeves is on terrific form in the pivotal role of Ludlow, employing hitherto untapped levels of grit and intensity, coupled with a pain and anguish that can only have come from the tragedies that have befallen his own personal life (he lost his girlfriend in a car crash in 2001, two years after losing a child).

But some of his support is less convincing, with Forest Whitaker’s corrupt police chief apparently borrowing a little too earnestly from Denzel Washington both in look and wardrobe (think Inside Man) and fiery intensity (Training Day), while the likes of Hugh Laurie’s internal affairs captain and Chris Evans’ unlikely ally drift in and out of proceedings to little effect. There are also hit-and-miss cameos from the likes of Cedric The Entertainer, as a jittery informant, and rappers The Game and Common as a couple of edgy dealers

Ayers’ familiarity with the unforgiving LA streets works to the film’s advantage, though, bringing a definite sense of authenticity in its choice of locations, while his set pieces are swift, brutal and occasionally shocking. The conclusion, too, brings with it a nice touch of moral ambiguity. It’s just a shame that Street Kings lacks the pulse-quickening intensity of Ayers’ very best work.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 107mins
UK DVD Release: September 15, 2008