While doing research for my review of "Street Kings" I looked up actor Keanu Reeves on the Internet Movie Database. I was curious as to what Reeves had done in addition to "Street Kings," "Constantine" and "A Scanner Darkly" since his days in the "Matrix" trilogy. What caught my eye was not the body of work of the actor, but the quote listed for his ‘Mini Biography.' It states that Reeves is one of the ‘most inscrutable actors to ever hit it big.' Inscrutable. This is not a word I would typically attach to Keanu "Woah" Reeves. To save you from scrambling out to find a dictionary, ‘inscrutable' essentially says that Reeves' career has been critic proof, but somewhat unexplainable. There are slightly different meanings for the word, but this is what I take from the comments of the author who provided the mini biography. In a way, I have to agree.
I've always likened Reeves to being the modern-day version of John Wayne. He is an actor that has been horribly typecast and unless a role serves him well, he suffers. Of course, Keanu has never tried to portray Genghis Khan, but his surfer dude persona does limit his artistic range. His acting range and dialogue delivery is not very wide and he almost seems lifeless in his performances, but you cannot argue that Reeves has not been successful. He was great in the first "Speed" and "Matrix" films and a few other solid performances along the way. However, these all played into his strengths; much as Wayne's best films showcased Wayne as a stereotypical American cowboy or soldier. Even the "Quiet Man" played to Wayne's physical persona and imposing demeanor.
In "Street Kings," Reeves joins one of my favorite actors, Forest Whitaker. Whitaker has amassed such a large body of work and provided so many great performances that I continue to be amazed that he is not as recognizable as other lesser actors. Part of it is due to the types of roles taken on by Whitaker as he was very good in the eerie "The Crying Game" and earned an Oscar for his solid outing in "The Last King of Scotland." I absolutely love "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," but how many other people have even heard of this film? Sure, Whitaker took part in "Battlefield Earth" and "Blown Away," but these are only two missteps in what has been an incredible career that has gone mostly under the radar. In "Street Kings," Whitaker is again solid and his presence is a benefit to the film.
The story revolves around a respected detective, Tom Ludlow (Reeves), whom struggles with alcoholism and the death of his adulterous wife. He is a very capable police detective that is not afraid of putting his own life on the line and breaking a few rules and regulations along the way to serve justice as he feels it should be handled. Ludlow's captain and close friend Jack Wander (Whitaker) works hard to cover up the wrongdoings of Ludlow and his other detectives and paint a picture that Ludlow and the others are heroic officers that just happen to come under unusual circumstances and use their training and ability to come out on top. This sometimes requires evidence to be lost or planted and lies to be fabricated to cover up on things.
One heroic bust by Ludlow results in three dead suspects and the watchful eye of Internal Affairs taking a look into the actions by Ludlow, Wander, Sergeant Mike Clady (Jay Mohr) and fellow detectives Dante (John Corbett) and Santos (Amaury Nolasco). It is made aware to Ludlow that his former partner Detective Washington (Terry Crews) has been talking to Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) about Ludlow's activities and the volatile relationship between Ludlow and Washington intensifies. This causes further problems when Ludlow attempts to track down Washington and physically beat him, but only to see his former friend and partner gunned down in cold blood by two assailants in what appears to be an armed robbery of a convenience store. Wander helps cover up the latest mistake by Ludlow, but Ludlow becomes a prime target of Biggs as Washington was in communication with Internal Affairs.
The story continues as Ludlow becomes determined to bring his estranged friend's murderers to justice and begins working with the younger and less experienced Detective "Disco" (Chris Evans). Disco and Ludlow work outside of the system and learn that ex-convicts Coats (Common) and Grill (The Game) were the responsible gunmen and had direct ties to Washington. A man known as Scribble (Cedric the Entertainer) provides clues that lead the two detectives to Grill and Coats, but the discovery proves that there was far more to Washington's slaying that what meets the eye and Ludlow finds himself torn between what he has learned from Internal Affairs and the mentoring of his friend Captain Jack Wander.
I was entertained by "Street Kings" and while I don't feel it is a particularly spectacular film, it gets the job done. Reeves is given a role of a detached, depressed and often despondent detective. That fits perfectly into his acting range and the inscrutable actor delivers a performance which allows the audience to feel that he is a man with a good heart and only driven by honor to his mentor and the guilt of losing his wife. The role of Ludlow required Reeves to show a physical ability as well as a need to deliver lines and it can't be argued that he isn't afraid of putting in some physical work for his roles. Forest Whitaker doesn't give his best performance, but he is such a good actor that even a sub-par performance is above average when compared to the rest of the cast. Raptors (that is Rapper/Actor as I try to be clever) The Game and Common are given small roles that fit their own skill range and I enjoyed their work as well. Familiar faces Jay Mohr and Cedric the Entertainer are nicely cast as well.
The directing by David Ayer is solid given this is Ayer's second film after the 2005 drama "Harsh Times" that starred Christian Bale. Ayer is best known for writing the Denzel Washington film "Training Day" and working with Jonathan Mostow on the screenplay for the entertaining "U-571." Ayer had additional screenwriting duties on the police-based films "S.W.A.T.," "Dark Blue" and the first "The Fast and the Furious" film. He brings his knowledge of police work into "Street Kings," but surprisingly does not have any screenwriting credits for his work on the film for the James Ellory story, which is based upon his screenplay "The Night Watchman." The believability of the story and its attention to detail of the workings of a police precinct and Internal Affairs benefits "Street Kings" and Ayer's background into police material certainly comes into play here.
While it has its merits, "Street King" is far from being a perfect film. It has its flaws. The middle part of the film becomes a murky mess of Ludlow's depressed state as the movie looks more into the character and his desire to redeem himself of his demons than it does in advancing the film's plot. The relationship between Ludlow and "Disco" goes from being rocky to having them relate on a first name basis without much explanation of their newfound respect for each other. The constant discussion on Ludlow's deceased adulterous wife becomes heavy handed after so many mentions and only slows the film after the umpteenth reminder that he drinks because his wife is dead. The other members of Wander's unit are forgotten during the entire middle of the film and this sets up an ending that doesn't quite fit when his fellow detectives are brought back into the picture.
The plot itself requires constant attention and while it doesn't have as many twists as the final "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, it tries to hard to hide something that is realized almost instantly; that Washington is betrayed by the police when he is gunned down. The audience is in complete understanding of this entire concept and Wander's actions in covering up the involvement of Ludlow are so thinly veiled that much of the eventual outcome can be figured out roughly a third of the way into the film. After a short amount of time the film simply becomes an exercise in slowly revealing the full facts behind the investigation and bringing Ludlow to the eventual face-off with those that betrayed his trust, friendship and Detective Washington. This is one of those films that attempts to be far more intelligent and slicker than it is capable of and there are times when it insults the intelligence of the audience.
Regardless of its flaws, "Street Kings" isn't a waste of time and the performances of the actors and Ayer's attention to detail provides one of the better police films in the past couple of years. Internal Affairs is always the villain in any police movie and I enjoyed watching a film where they were portrayed as such, but redeemed themselves in the end. Reeves' seemingly fallen hero helps provide that redemption with his own rebirth after a long bout of depression and this story arc too was worth watching. The action is decent and mostly grounded in reality. While the title may have one believing the film is something it isn't, this is a good little drama that entertains more than it disappoints. With a little work it could have been a great film and my personal recommendation would be that while "Street Kings" is probably not worth paying the price to add to your collection, it is easily worth a rental.
"Streets Kings" is a visually inconsistent film that ends up looking quite spiffy on Blu-ray with a solid AVC transfer that holds up well regardless of what is thrown its way. There are moments during "Street Kings" when the level of detail and coloring is quite good and I was quite pleased with how the film looked. There were other times when the imagery dropped due to stylistic changes, but it was not a flaw of the transfer. Director of photography Gabriel Beristain and Director David Ayer used coloring to help convey the mood of the film and some scenes are skewed towards an icy blue palette and other scenes exhibit a warm golden set of hues. Black levels are strong and deep and details are not lost in the shadows. The ‘edgy' visual style prohibits "Street Kings" from looking like a top tier title, but this disc is well above average in its presentation. Finally, the source materials used for "Street Kings" are pristine.
English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio is the default audio track for "Street Kings" and French and Spanish languages are represented in the form of 5.1 Dolby Surround. Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, English and Korean subtitles are included. In all honesty, I was not expecting a lot from this DTS HD mix, but "Street Kings" surprised me pleasantly with a lively and vivid audio experience. Gunfire sequences were especially of note and the Dodge Charger sounded incredible as Keanu Reeves rolled around town in the Hemi powered car. There are three key gunfire sequences in the film and they all sound great. Other moments in "Street Kings" are deep in dialogue and the spoken word is clear and fully intelligible. Imaging was clean across all channels and a nice envelope of sound was created by the DTS HD mix. All-in-all, "Street Kings" was well above average in sound.
"Street Kings" arrives on Blu-ray as a Digital Copy Special Edition which comes complete with a second platter containing a digital copy of the film that may be used on portable devices or personal computers. The digital copy is fully compatible with Mac or Windows based PCs and will easily transfer to Zune, iPod or other transportable players. A serial number is included on a paper sheet to activate the digital copy, as well as instructions. I did not attempt to load the "Street Kings" digital copy, but I have previously tested out some of the Twentieth Century Fox titles with Digital Copy and it is a nice little added bonus.
The disc itself contains a few decent special features that will require roughly two hour's worth of viewing time and a Commentary by Director David Ayer. I listened to a few sizable chunks of the Ayer commentary and found the director to be an informative and entertaining fellow who discusses in great detail various aspects of his film and provides some nice information on the plot, characters and the making of the film. Ayer never comes across as boring and for those that particularly enjoyed watching "Street Kings," turning the commentary on isn't a bad way to revisit the film. Additionally, Profile 1.1 players have access to a Picture-in-Picture feature titled Under Surveillance: Inside the World of Street Kings. This was a decent PiP feature, but much of the material is covered in the stand-alone materials.
Nearly forty-five minutes of alternate footage for "Street Kings" is provided on the disc. The Deleted Scenes (12:20) are provided with optional commentary by director David Ayer. The fifteen deleted scenes are sizable and I found a couple of them did add to the story, but a few deserved their spot on the cutting room floor. Ten Alternate Takes (29:05) are thrown in and these take some time to sit through and will probably only entertain those that are very interested in the film as much of this is repetitive. The performances are a little different and there is some additional moments that I did not remember in the film, but I enjoyed the shorter collection of deleted scenes a little more.
A handful of featurettes are also provided. The first featurette Street Rules: Rolling with David Ayer and Jaime FitzSimons (17:28) finds the director and an LAPD technical advisor driving around town in a minivan and looking at Los Angeles and talking about the film and the crime around L.A. This was not a bad feature and I found the discussion on crime to be quite entertaining. L.A. Bete Noir: Writing Street Kings (4:49) focused entirely on the writing process and converting the James Ellroy screenplay for "Nightwatch" to what was used for "Street Kings." This was promotional in nature, but did contain a little pertinent information. Street Cred (3:51) has Common, Cedric the Entertainer and a man that goes by the nickname Bone join the director and they talk about growing up in South Central and how the film is relevant. The HBO First Look: City of Fallen Angles: Making Street Kings (12:01) is very typical of most HBO First Look specials and includes talking-heads interviews with footage and a minimal amount of behind-the-scenes footage to promote the film.
Some shorter materials round out the bonus offerings of the 2-disc set. The four Vignettes (7:51) are titled "Crash Course," "Heirs to the Throne," "Inside Vice Special Unit," and "Training Days." These were short and focused on various parts of the stunts, action scenes and training required for the actors. These were better than the HBO First Look segment. The Behind-the-Scenes (3:59) footage was a second set of four shorts. "In Training," "Car Rig," "Squibs" and "On Set" looked at other moments during the making of "Street Kings," but very briefly. They were short, but interesting. Finally the Theatrical Trailer A and Theatrical Trailer B finished off the "Street King" footage and clips for "Behind Enemy Lines 2," "Stargate Continuum" and "What Happens in Vegas" advertised other Fox Blu-ray product.
"Street Kings" was one of those films where I liked it, but not quite enough to recommend a mass exodus to go and purchase the film. However, the disc is worth a rental on Blu-ray and it wouldn't be a bad bargain purchase if you can find it for less than full value. The problem is, "Street Kings" isn't worth $30 because you may not watch it more than once or twice. It is good, but flawed and there are better titles out there. Keanu Reeves is our generation's version of John Wayne and he is cast in a role that suits him well, but he isn't the greatest actor around and even with a strong cast, many of the actors feel as if they are on autopilot. The visuals of the film are clean, but style choices made for "Street Kings" limit the visual appeal of the film. Sound is quite good and I particularly enjoyed the shoot-out sequences. The bonus features are lengthy and provide good material. This is one of those border-line films, but it should find a few fans.