by HELEN GEIB
Street Kings is a police corruption drama from an original screenplay by novelist James Ellroy. It’s the story of a rule-breaking LAPD cop forced to face hard truths about himself and his comrades when he begins an off the books murder investigation. The blue brotherhood is a green beast, and doing justice is a sideline to its real occupation. Ellroy is mining familiar territory, but it’s a rich vein and Street Kings is an intelligent and absorbing film.
Call to mind the plot and characters of L.A. Confidential. Now imagine Bud White was born a few decades later, joined the LAPD in 1990, and is an 18 year veteran of the force and alcoholic widower when the story begins. Push play.
Keanu Reeves is Tom Ludlow, key member of an elite vice squad and an interesting variation on the character of tortured romantic hero that Reeves excels at playing. There are three principal supporting parts filled by stellar actors: Forest Whitaker is Ludlow’s unit chief; Hugh Laurie an internal affairs bigwig; and Chris Evans a homicide detective who teams up with Ludlow. The movie is an actor’s showcase and the four stars work their parts to full advantage.
The root of the tragedy of Ludlow’s life is that the people around him are all a lot smarter than he is. By the time he realizes that truth, the unscrupulous ones (who are most of them, and by and large the people he trusts the most) have been using him for their own ends for a very long time.
As Ludlow slowly unravels the mystery that is the backbone of the plot, there are few times when the audience is not one or a few steps ahead of him. This doesn’t produce the irritation or impatience that might have been expected, but instead pity for Ludlow’s struggle to comprehend profound betrayal and the consequences of his own blindness. That struggle drives the story and is its emotional heart.
Other new releases this week: The Life Before Her Eyes, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Prom Night, Quid Pro Quo