Street Kings

 ★★☆☆☆ 

Gripping performances by Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker and an all-star supporting cast power this action-packed crime thriller, in which a veteran cop finds himself ensnared in a deadly web of conspiracy and betrayal. Reeves stars as Tom Ludlow, a hard-nosed detective with a talent for delivering brutal street justice. When evidence implicates him in the murder of a fellow officer, the violence around Ludlow explodes as he realizes his own life is in danger and he can trust no one.

This gritty detective thriller bears most resemblance to Training Day, but while that film had serious flaws, not least the awful contrivance that the plot turns on, it is still much superior to this. Not that it isn’t enjoyable in its own way, but it’s numbingly predictable and derivative of several other films, including L.A. Confidential, bizarrely. It’s almost painful to watch as the transparent characters shuffle to their inevitable conclusions via all the usual clich├ęs. Truly great actors like Forrest Whitaker (as the Vice Team captain, referred to as The King) deliver storming performances like they’re trying not to sink, while you have to feel sorry for Chris Evans (ambitious young detective, determined to do things right) who is very good, but perhaps more doomed than anyone. I guarantee you’ll shake your head sadly as soon as he appears! Maybe he is less doomed though than the cartoon characters who make up Keanu Reeve’s untrustworthy team and were probably written in the first draft with crayon as ‘Goon 1’, ‘Goon 2’, etc.

Still, it’s violent, with solid action throughout, so thoroughly entertaining and there’s half a chance it could all be redeemed by the end. Unfortunately that ending is so infuriatingly empty that it loses all credibility. The story just plays out in a cycle of grimy nastiness without a hint of irony or redemption and by doing so squanders the ace in Detective Tom Ludlow, whose claustrophobic story (he’s hardly off-screen, if at all) could have been compared to a circle of hell, similar to Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle.

Keanu Reeves as Ludlow is a revelation. This is his best dramatic role and if the cynics amongst you think that’s a back-handed compliment, well I was left unable to consider anyone else in the part. Reeves invests everything in the character; his hollow-eyed, podgy face holds a lifetime of drunken self-loathing, but with an undercurrent of ruthless, violent efficiency that makes all the scenes, be they action or drama, utterly convincing. The flat delivery works and he really holds his own against heavyweights like Whitaker and Laurie; if anything, he’s working harder and more memorably. It’s like we’ve caught up with Johnny Utah and found him broken. That the story doesn’t reward him is unforgivable.

Really the film can be summed up by Hugh Laurie’s role; it’s a brilliant, punchy performance, he chews the dialogue nicely and growls his way through every scene. But he’s the twin of House. So we’ve seen it all before, even though he’s fun to watch. Despite my negative review, give it a shot, if only to see the commendable actor Keanu Reeves has become.