Street Kings (2008) dir. David Ayer
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie
How many cop stories can David Ayer tell? Over the past 7 years David Ayer has been thoroughly proficient with his genre writing. A David Ayer film consists of tough as nails cop with teetering morals who is aggrandized as a flawed hero.
Let’s run down his films (as writer and/or director) along with its logline:
Training Day (2001): The only thing more dangerous than the line being crossed, is the cop who will cross it.
Dark Blue (2002): A robbery homicide investigation triggers a series of events that will cause a corrupt LAPD officer to question his tactics.
SWAT (2003): An imprisoned drug kingpin offers a huge cash reward to anyone that can break him out of police custody and only the LAPD's Special Weapons and Tactics team can prevent it.
Harsh Times (2005): An ex-Army Ranger finds himself slipping back into his old life of petty crime after a job offer from the LAPD evaporates.
Now arrives “Street Kings” – the story of a morally corrupt LAPD officer looking for the murderer of his former partner.
“Street Kings” is David Ayer’s second directorial feature after "Harsh Times", but was from a script penned by the great crime novelist James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential"). There’s a shadow of the structure and plot twists of "L.A. Confidential", so there’s something familiar, and yet predictable about the story.
Keanu Reeves plays Det. Tom Ludlow of the LAPD, a man who goes beyond the law to find street justice. He’s backed up by his homies in his department, led by Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). This hasn’t stopped Internal Affairs (often acronymed “IA” in the movies) from breathing down his neck. When Ludlow hears that his ex-partner is working with IA on a case against his department, Tom’s goes to confront the man and give him a cautionary beatdown. Before that happens, the two are coincidentally caught in a convenience store armed robbery which finds his partner dead.
This is a wake up call for Tom who decides to conduct his own investigation into finding the killers, but in doing so, puts himself at risk of total exposure to his history of corruption.
Keanu Reeves plays his usually unemotive brooding self. It’s a heavily flawed character with more than enough complexities in his backstory, but so much time is spent with the mechanics of the plot we never really get to know or love Tom Ludlow. Forest Whitaker is the one who gets to go over-the-top, and he seems to have a lot of fun doing that for once. Chris Evans, one of those pretty faces that would usually seem out of place in a tough cop flick, provides the only character we come to like. He’s a young cop trying to fit into the ways of LAPD politics, and his mentored by the king of the street himself, Tom Ludlow.
“Street Kings” apparently was written back in the mid 90’s by Ellroy, and has traded directors for ten years - according to the imdb, David Fincher, Spike Lee and Oliver Stone were once attached. With Ayer on board and his record of morally questionable cop flicks, “Street Kings” feels like yesterday’s news. If the film came out around the OJ trial or the LA riots, the context of police corruption and gangland drug warfare would have greater cultural significance. Instead the film feels like a number of cop clichés strung together.
“Street Kings” is available DVD and Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment