Ken's Review: Street Kings - Blurring the Line Between Good Cop and Bad Cop
by Ken Evans
April 11, 2008
As I was driving to the screening of Street Kings, I couldn't help but hope for one thing - this would at least be as good as Narc. For me Narc was a solid and intriguing cop movie from the last few years that I really enjoyed. It's a bit hard to come up with a good original cop film in today's time in the shadow of all the great ones from the 70's and 80's. I'll tell you now though, I actually kind of liked Street Kings and it's definitely worth checking out.
Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is part of the Vice Special Unit within the LAPD. His job is to hunt down and kill the criminals who his squad is looking for and make it look like self defense. Though lately Ludlow has been drinking to cope with his conscience that's been telling him what he's doing might not be right. Ludlow's squad is overseen by Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), who makes sure that his group of cops stay under the radar and out of the sights of an internal affairs investigator, James Biggs (Hugh Laurie). When Ludlow's old partner is murdered, he decides to take matters into his own hands and hunt down his partner's killers. Turns out to be a harder task then he thought and he ends up uncovering more then he bargained for.
Right off the bat I have to confess that I'm a die hard Keanu Reeves fan. Before I get tons of comments bashing me for my fondness of Reeves, know that I realize he isn't the best actor. My liking of Reeves is based solely on his ability to be the same in every film. I can always count on him to carry the same character from movie to movie and for some reason I think it's great. Point Break, Matrix, Speed, The Devil's Advocate, and The Gift all have him as the same character and I wouldn't have it any other way. In defense of my desire to see Reeves, know that my brother-in-law, who doesn't like Reeves the same way, also enjoyed Street Kings, too.
If you have seen Reeves in any other movie, know that he is yet again still the same in Street Kings. Forest Whitaker, on the other hand, is really starting to confuse me. I absolutely loved him in The Last King of Scotland, thought he was horrible in Vantage Point, and thought he was good, but not great, in Street Kings. If anyone has seen the show "House" on TV, you'll be happy to see Hugh Laurie as the internal affairs investigator. He only has a couple scenes, but those scenes are definitely great. Laurie has been in a few films before and I hope we continue to see him more on the big screen, hopefully in some bigger roles with much more screen time. A few other names you might recognize are Cedric the Entertainer, Chris Evans, and Jay Mohr, who all had solid performances as well.
While all of the performances were good, what made this film for me was the story. Normally in these good cop, bad cop movies there are distinct lines between the good guys and the bad. Sure you might have a cop who doesn't obey the rules and destroys property, but you always know who you should be rooting for and who you want to see arrested. In Street Kings, the line between good and bad is blurred. Although Reeves might be considered a good guy for taking down the suspects, his methods are illegal and must be questioned. Not only is Reeves running around killing suspects but his whole squad is behind him covering up his tracks. This was a very cool and refreshing twist on the classic cop film.
I'll admit that I was very apprehensive about seeing this movie. Director David Ayer didn't score any points with me after his directorial debut Harsh Times. I really hated that movie. But, he did write Training Day and U-571, both of which I liked. So with those writing credits and Reeves in the starring role, I decided to give Kings a chance and it paid off. I was expecting it to be the run of the mill cop film with the same old story and lots of rap songs, due to Common and The Game being cast. Luckily they played a small role and this didn't turn out to be another movie that some rappers were using as a promotional vehicle.
Overall, I thought this was a very enjoyable and refreshing take on the crime/cop genre film. It dragged a bit at the end because it had to tie up a lot of unexplained plot points, but for the most part it was well paced with good action sequences and solid character development. It definitely surprised me and will probably end up surprising anyone that has judged this film before seeing it. If you like action crime dramas, than this is definitely one to check out.