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Rated 2.95 stars
by 580 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Intense Thriller
by Diana Saenger

Street crime, an enormous problem in our society, provides fodder for many films. Street Kings, adapted from James Ellroy's novel, is such a film. What looks like another of so many good-cops-gone-bad stories, one character sets this film apart -- and that’s Detective Tom Ludlow, played by Keanu Reeves.

Most people who enter law enforcement do so with a sense of righting wrongs. I know, I was once a police officer. Ludlow feels this passion, but takes it to an extreme level. He's part of an elite group called Ad Vice, a specialized unit of the LAPD headed up by the uncompromising Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker).

Working in the shadow of the blinding Los Angles sun or on dark dangerous nights takes a skill Ludlow has mastered, even if it's cost him any sense of normalcy. So what if he has to down a few small bottles of vodka before hitting the streets to entrap drug lords?

While Ludlow understands his methods are underhanded and even border on crimes themselves, he's brainwashed by Wander into thinking that cleaning the streets of the dirt makes it right. Wander calls Ludlow "the point of the spear."

"Ludlow is given the responsibility to erase those people who the powers that be deem unfit," said David Ayer (Training Day), the film's director. "Nobody wakes up and thinks they’re the bad guy. Ludlow is someone who started out with righteous intentions and wanted to save the world but found himself going in the wrong direction."

When Internal Affairs Chief Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) starts popping up on scene at unexpected times, Ludlow brushes him off like an annoying mosquito. Ludlow is the ace of killing in a swift, merciless way -- and all, he believes, for the good of mankind. He knows Captain Jack will cover up each questionable murder like a new mom wrapping up her baby.

The special unit begins to unravel when Ludlow is told it’s his former partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), who’s the Internal Affairs informant. Ready to confront Washington, Ludlow ends up at the scene of his murder and becomes the prime suspect. Relationships change and plot elements alter as the film gets grittier and travels down a road of violence and botched drug raids.

What makes this movie work is Keanu Reeves’ performance. For years, this actor’s naysayers have complained that he shows no emotion and is one-note. They can't see the bigger picture. Gary Cooper was another actor with the same stoic manner, and he's now considered a movie icon. Reeves has been a screen presence for more than 20 years, and while he's entertained viewers in comedies such as Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, he's also surprised them with his dramatic talents in The Matrix, Speed and A Walk in the Clouds.

As Ludlow, Reeves shows very tender moments when he confesses to Washington's wife what the loss of his wife meant to him, yet he's an ardent executioner when he sees it as his duty and the only way to survive.

"I was intrigued by the level of violence surrounding the character and the dramatic consequences of that," said Reeves about his character. "Ludlow is lashing out and using violence to get to the truth, but as someone says in the film, ‘Blood doesn’t wash away blood.’  In the end, violence doesn’t change anything."

Captain Jack should have been an exceptional role for Whittaker, who took callous to a new level in his Academy-award winning performance in The Last King of Scotland. I'm not sure if he over acted in Street Kings or the part was overwritten, but it's not his best role.

Regarding other supporting cast members, Hugh Laurie seems the perfect choice for Briggs. Much as he does on TV's House, Laurie shows he’s a unique actor who plays his roles one way only to have them end with the opposite effect. And Chris Evans, as a rookie cop, holds his own opposite Reeves’ complicated role.

Those reluctant to see violence should be warned that there’s plenty of it in this movie, but unlike films such as Training Day, it's tempered with an unclichéd story. Ludlow never set out to do wrong; somewhere along the way in life on the streets, it just happened. Can he redeem himself when all the doors have closed is the constant question running throughout this thriller.

From the opening to the end of Street Kings, twists and turns as well as jaw-dropping action fill the screen.

(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated  "R" for strong violence and pervasive language.)

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