Director: David Ayer
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forrest Whittaker, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie, Jay Mohr, Terry Crews, Naomie Harris
Plot: Tom Ludlow (Reeves) is a reckless hero cop who finds himself in a world of trouble, when an old partner who might have been snitching on him turns up dead.
Street Kings is a hidden gem in the movie world. I feel a little ashamed to admit I had no idea of its existence. While its dirty cop routine keeps it in the shadows of much better movies, like Training Day and LA Confidential, Street Kings packs a punch and offers a thrilling cop movie for anyone wanting to seek it out.
Keanu Reeves plays one of his nastiest characters to date with Tom Ludlow. Reeves is best known for his movies where he plays action heroes, asked to drift through a role rather than embrace character (The Matrix, Speed, John Wick), but with Street Kings, Reeves finds himself handling a gritty anti-hero, worlds away from anything he has played before. Ludlow spends the first hour of the film, driving from crime scene to crime scene while drunk, slurring racist remarks at cops and suspects alike and defying every rule put into place. When Internal Affairs cop, a subtly brilliant Hugh Laurie, comes sniffing around, you almost agree with him wanting to take down this shoot-first, ask no questions later cop. Even as Ludlow begins to step away from his bad cop routine and start to save the day, he still struggles to shake off his bulldog attitude, blindly marching through the story, with little thought paid to those around him. The supporting cast are at the mercy of his impatience. Reeves loves finally giving a mature character, almost as though only now has he escaped the horrors of Bill and Ted. Stumbling through the film with a tiredness in his eyes, as the drama builds up in Street Kings, you feel it in Keanu’s eyes. Like any good conspiracy movie, it is the hero versus the world and as Ludlow runs deeper into the rabbit hole, it is hard to see how he can make it out of this mess alive. Yet he still delivers as an action hero. While the fight scenes are more low key, with the emphasis more on mystery and drama, there are some neat set-pieces where Reeves flexes the action hero muscles he is famous for. The opening shoot-out is precise and one neat trick with a refrigerator shows off both Reeves’ badassery and Ayer’s smart direction.
All the while we are enjoying this neat thriller, Ayer is asking the big questions. This is a movie questioning the police force and if the way they operate is necessarily the right thing to do. It is the background details that point the blame at every character to varying degrees. When Reeves is relegated to the complaints office to keep out of trouble, the script jokes that the entire division is a farce. Small characters are hinted at taking bribes in the background. Even Chris Evan’s squeaky clean cop is willing to brush some evidence under the mat, before he realises the true horrors of the case he has been assigned. It is a tough debate to have, because Ayer constantly highlights that these cops are doing good things. There is nothing clear cut as a bad guy here. While Reeves’ Ludlow ignores procedure and manipulates evidence, he does so to take down some nasty characters, especially the child rapists in the opening scene. Perhaps the blame is also aimed at the audience, as Ayer suggests our demand for a bloody action scene is actually the wrong way for society’s police to behave. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that while the police’s intentions are good, they have become lost in their own power. One key character sees the police and everyone else as a separate group of people, doing everything in his power to look after the police officers around him, forgetting his job to uphold the law. It is a powerful topic and one that adds a meaty kick to a relatively average cop thriller.
Final Verdict: Reeves is excellent as Street King’s anti-hero in a thriller that questions the motives of America’s police officers.