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Street Kings

The aftermath of JFK’s assassination and Richard Nixon’s various misdemeanours helped create a modern cynicism towards higher authority. These events and early anti heroes such as Dirty Harry showed how power prestige was no barrier to crossing the moral divide.  Street Kings delves into the dirty deeds of dodgy policemen whose primary vice is maintaining the mastery of their domain.
Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a bent cop grieving his wife’s recent death.  He lives in terminal toxicity using any unorthodox tactics necessary to rid the streets of criminals.  His departmental officers are equally corrupt led by his superior Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker).  Ludlow’s former partner is killed after threatening to expose him snapping him out of his complacency.  Determined to bring down his crooked colleagues, Ludlow attempts to turn his badge of dishonour into one worn with pride.
This interesting but flawed film has a very moral centre despite its displays of amorality.  Part of the rotten regime Ludlow’s own self hatred prevents him from enacting his duty of care.  Wrapped around some high velocity action, the film paints a bleak picture of supposed guardians of peace.  The blatant grab for more power spills onto the streets with untouchable lawlessness running rampant.  This uncompromising view may be unpalatable for some, although it says volumes on what it takes to uphold true justice.  These intriguing elements fire what is basically a very simplistic and uneven movie.  Lacking any significant female presence, the generally unsympathetic characters become swamped in a sea of male machismo.
After Point Break and Speed, Keanu Reeves has run the gamut of police procedurals.  Despite his limited acting skills he makes a reasonable fist at getting under his character’s skin.  The strange casting of Hugh Laurie as an internal affairs investigator and the over the top performance of Forest Whitaker undermine things.  Their lack of menace takes the story out of reality with their pantomime style acting.  Plot points such as the haste in which Ludlow turns from sinner to saint are somewhat implausible as is his shock to his co-worker’s actions.

Adding nothing new to the corrupt cop genre, Street Kings is less substantial than it appears.   Although the tense action is technically well handled, these are unravelled by sluggish direction and weak acting.  Power may hotly corrupt its eager disciples, but this average effort may give audiences a chilly aftertaste.
Rating out of 10:  5

The Painted Veil

Period romances have a way of being more complicated than their contemporary counterparts.  With technology erased from the equation, genuine emotions are allowed to surface.  The pen of W Somerset Maughan revelled in writing human dramas with The Painted Veil amongst his most popular works.  Enjoying a third cinematic incarnation, the tale of redemption and forgiveness transcends the rituals of modern dating.
Shallow London socialite Kitty (Naomi Watts) is bored with her high society life.  Seeking escape she enters into a loveless marriage with Dr Walter Fane (Edward Norton).  Moving to Shanghai, the restless Kitty embarks on an affair with diplomat, Charlie (Liev Schreiber).  Despite his genuine affection, Walter punishes her indiscretion by forcing her to join him to travel to a remote Chinese village suffering from a cholera epidemic.  Over the months the desperate conditions hold the answer for the unhappy couple who learn the value of true love.
The Painted Veil is unusual in that the marriage signals the start of the duo’s courtship.  It’s interesting how the pair are quite unlike-able in the beginning, as they have to love themselves before loving each other.  Finding common ground becomes the key to unravelling their emotional barriers, enabling them to survive their harsh surroundings.  Strong films follow their characters on a journey which this does with ease.  Rather than cheat audiences with a half hearted script there is a sense of satisfying completeness by its conclusion.  The languid pacing opens up the story to reveal its well rounded characters.
John Curran’s direction has a classical epic sweep matching previous romantic movies.  A rich visual palate is brilliantly captured by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh with the panoramic Chinese vistas looking exquisite.  Norton and Watts provide engaging performances steeped in believability, with the rest of the cast following suit.   Scenes in the plague infested village become genuinely moving with Diana Rigg’s role as a nun adding substance.
 
An evenly balanced romance is rare, with The Painted Veil escaping the descent into morose melodrama.  The exceptional location shooting and fine cast bring new enlightenment to W Somerset Maughan’s ageless words.
Rating out of 10:  8