I'm a big fan of James Ellroy's novels, and his autobiography, My Dark Places (where he hires a detective to try to discover who murdered his mother when he was a child) is as gripping as any of his fiction. Ellroy is best known to film fans as the author of the book that L. A. Confidential was made from, as well as the inferior Black Dahlia. When I heard that he wrote the screen play for Street Kings, which has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray I was intrigued. Snapping up a copy of the HD disc, I was favorably impressed by the image and sound reproduction, but unfortunately this star-studded film just doesn't have any life. With a story that has been told countless times, the movie brings nothing new to the 'angry cop with nothing to loose' genre and is filled with stilted, unnatural dialog and a lead actor who only emotes one emotion.
Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is veteran in the LAPD who is assigned to the Special Vice Squad Unit under Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). This unit is the group that does things other cops can't. They shoot first and ask questions later, with the goal of locking up the bad guys (or burying them) and not letting little things like laws get in the way. Tom is hero of the team who doesn't seem to care about his personal safety since his wife died (in the arms of another man) and while he's good, Wander has had to pull his fat out of the fire on numerous occasions.
After rescuing a pair of kidnapped twin girls, Ludlow finds out that his ex-partner from years back, Terrance Washington (Terry Crews), has been meeting with Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie). It's clear that Washington is ratting out someone, and the person he has the most dirt on is Ludlow.
Wander has ordered Ludlow to stay away from Washington and promised him emphatically that he would take care of the problem, but the hot-headed cop doesn't listen. He tracks his ex-partner down to a convenience store and is about to beat the crap out of him (or at least try to) when a pair of machine gun wielding thugs burst into place and kill the clerk and Washington. Ludlow hides and manages to live, but while firing at the criminals he accidentally shoots Washington (who was a dead man anyway.) This looks incredibly bad, so Wander has the security camera tape removed and promises to cover it up. But that means letting Washington's killers get away. While they may not have seen eye-to-eye, there's no way Ludlow can let Washington's killers walk. With his whole squad fighting him on this, he has to go it alone.
There were several things that didn't work in this movie, not the least of which was the trite plot. As soon as Washington is killed, it's pretty obvious what's going on and who is behind it all. The fact that Ludlow doesn't see what the audience does for an extra hour (or more) gets increasingly irritating as time goes on. Sure, there are a couple of plot twists, but these are minor and never very startling.
The dialog was surprisingly bad. None of the characters spoke like real people, they all sounded like characters from a novel, at best. After Ludlow kills four pedophiles who kidnapped a pair of girls, sexually abused them and were planning on selling them into slavery, a fellow officer walks up and says "Congrats on four more notches for your gun belt. I'll be praying for the families of your victims." That's just too over the top. Not to mention Wander's speech at the end where he proclaims himself "This is my power! This is my crown! I'm the king of secrets!... I will be chief! I will be mayor! This is my world!" It was supposed to be serious, but it came across as comical, especially given the situation. I couldn't help but wonder how this film, which is very violent, would have played out if Quentin Tarantino, with his remarkable ear for dialog, had worked on the script.
People often accuse Keanu Reeves of being a wooden actor and this movie won't do much to silence those critics. In this film he starts off brooding, gets angry, and then broods some more. He only seems to hit those two notes and doesn't make his character seem real or alive. There's very little humor in the script, and what there is dies when Reeves says his lines. At one point another cop asks "Are we going to kill them?" To which Reeves replies in a serious manner "No, I'm going to ask them some questions and then we're going to kill them." Given the right actor it could have been a memorable line, but it, like the rest of the movie, just falls flat.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The movie was filmed to be dark and gritty, and the 2.4:1 AVC encoded image reproduces that accurately. There are a lot of low light sequences and the level of detail in the shadows and colors in the dim light are both very good. The blacks are nice and solid and the lines are generally tight. Though there aren't a lot of screen 'pop' moments the transfer is very acceptable. On the digital side of things the image also looks good. There's a scene where the street level camera pans across the side of a high rise filled with windows. On a DVD, there would almost assuredly been some aliasing and jiggling of the fine lines that separate the windows, but on this disc the lines were steady and didn't shimmer at all. That was nice. Though there are not any scenes that really jump out at viewers, this BD does a great job of recreating the look and feel the creators were going for.
The film boasts a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track in English as well as DD 5.1 tracks in Spanish and French. The audio really went a long way towards improving the viewing experience as the mix was first rate. The action scenes were very impressive with full use made of the entire soundstage. Gunfire was clear and precise and if you closed your eyes you could almost track the passage of the bullets through the room. The music used, while sometimes a tad overpowering, always filled the room with sound quite effectively. The dialog was clean and clear throughout the film and the range was very good. This is just the sort of track that I love, one that accents the on screen action without distracting from it.
This disc includes all of the bonus items found on the SD DVD, which is nice. It did seem to be a bit of overkill for me, especially since I wasn't enamored of the movie. The creators seem to hit the same points again and again and if one of two of the featurettes were lost, it wouldn't adversely affect the package. The disc starts out with a commentary track with director David Ayer. This is a typical commentary track that never really reached out and grabbed my attention. He talks about the setting, how the film came about, how lucky he was to get the cast that he did, etc. A pretty generic commentary overall.
On the video side of things there are 15 deleted scenes (SD) which didn't add much to the film, and nine alternate takes (also SD) which were pretty unimpressive. Then there are the plethora of mundane featurettes in SD: Street rules: Rolling with Director David Ayer and Tech. Advisor Jamie Fitzsimmons - the pair drive around LA and talk about how real the film is; L.A Bete Noir: Writing Street Kings - a 5 minute look at the script; HBO: First Look - Street Kings - a typical HBO fluff piece; Behind the Scenes clips - short looks at the nuts and bolts of production, with training the actors, using squibs, etc. It's too bad this only last 4 minutes; Street Cred - the cast talk about how accurate the film is; City of Fallen Angels: Making Street Kings - a lot of clips of the film mixed with everyone involved talking about what a great film it is.
There're also an HD only P-in-P option for people who have player equipped for that. This was pretty useless in my opinion. Most of the clips shown during the movie are also accessible from the extras menu. I haven't really seen any of these P-in-P commentaries that blow me away, and this one is no exception.
With a trite plot that's obvious from the beginning, poor dialog and flat characters this isn't destined to become a classic. The story has been done before, and better, but there are some good moments in it including the slight twist at the very end. While it was obvious that this was based on a James Ellroy concept, this film doesn't pack the punch that his books do. Cops film fans may want to rent it, but this would make a poor blind buy.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.