Kings

2018-07-13 08:23
 

 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

In the weeks leading up to the infamous '90s LA Riots, sparked by the vicious beating of a black man, Rodney King, by a group of white police officers and the ultimate acquittal of the cops responsible, a woman and her large group of foster children are drawn further and further into the racially-motivated chaos that ensues.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Ever since winning her best actress Oscar for her role in Monster's Ball, Halle Berry has ricocheted from one terrible movie to another. Starting with the truly abysmal Catwoman back when film studios didn't realise that faithfulness to their source material was a large part of what made comic book films work, it has become an unwritten rule that Berry's name in the credits all but guarantees a lousy film. I wish I could say that Kings, a gritty look at the life of a (reasonably) normal group of black Los Angeles residents in the lead up to the Riots, broke that trend but, alas, not so much. Not so much at all.

Turkish writer/director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, was hailed as a truly remarkable new voice in world cinema with her 2015 début feature, Mustang, so we can only hope that Kings – a film that is clearly a very well-intentioned passion project – is little more than a case of a brief sophomore slump. It is a major slump, though, where its honourable intentions are absolutely not met by the end product itself, which is such a dire mess that all the good will in the world can't hide that damn near nothing about it works.

Right from the off, this makeshift foster family utterly fails to convince as anything but a halfway house for wayward children, barely looked after by its supposed matriarch, as played with conviction but not much else by Halle Berry. The film then constantly shifts between Berry's character and the oldest of the foster kids (Lamar Johnson) with his thoroughly uninteresting romance with a rebellious girl at his school (Rachel Hilson) and his less than impressive attempts to keep the rest of his “family” from getting sucked into the violence that is broiling around them.

Kings doesn't have much of a discernible plot but what really rankles is how shoddy its storytelling is. It may adequately capture the chaotic nature of the riots themselves but that sense of chaos permeates every frame of the film – and not in a good way. We lurch from scene to scene and from character to character with almost no sense of purpose or drive so that by the time the credits roll, you will have learned next to nothing about these characters or the real-world events that inspired Erguven to make the film in the first place.

It's a film that looks like it has something to say but it's such a disjointed mess of weird editing and seismic tonal shifts that any point it might be trying to make gets entirely lost in the shuffle. It also constantly undermines anything about it that might show hints of working, as, for example, when a tragic event towards the end of the film refuses to actually go anywhere and in wasting a bunch of performances that range from fine to very good (Johnson and Hilson seem like especially promising young actors) on characters that are woefully ill defined.  

And then there's Daniel Craig. Now, Craig is by far the most enjoyable thing in the film as his crotchety but kinda decent next door neighbour to this foster family brings at least some lightness to what is otherwise an oppressively gloomy tale. He does, however, seem to be in an entirely different film all together to everyone else. This is noticeable enough when you get short glimpses of him from afar looking like a character in a much more fun Coens-esque black-comedy but becomes decidedly more bothersome when the film teams him up with Berry's character, first romantically then in this thoroughly bizarre mix of broad comedy and daring, Bond-like escape artistry.

It's never all that pleasurable to slate the work of someone who is clearly throwing their all into their art (unlike cynical garbage like the latest Transformers or Adam Sandler movie) but there's just no getting past it: even by the standards of Halle Berry's awful filmography over the past couple of decades, Kings is a very, very bad film that doesn't come within a thousand leagues of doing justice to the real-life events its trying to depict. 



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