It’s important to be selective when considering film roles as an actor after you’ve been involved in phenomenally successful productions.
For Keanu Reeves, the huge successes of Speed and The Matrix Trilogy propelled him into the limelight and helped him become one of the most iconic faces of the last 15 years. But it can be tough for actors to break out of the mould of the characters which shot them to stardom.
In his latest role, Reeves plays Detective Tom Ludlow, a veteran corrupt cop in the LAPD, who is failing to come to terms with the loss of his wife. He blots out reality with his alcoholism in conjunction with working the force’s system to get the results that are needed. Adding yet another string to his law enforcement acting bow, Reeves’ character is unrecognisable when compared with that of his Officer Jack Traven character in Speed.
Street Kings portrays the LAPD as a ‘do as I say, don’t do as I do’ world, where cover-ups, blackmail and corruption are rife.
Having to create a crime scene, plant evidence and kill several gangsters in a house, to secure the release of two kidnapped 14-year-old twins from the grasp of a Korean paedophile gang, is just a case of a means to an end for Ludlow. He gets the results even if they’re unconventional and immoral.
Having been a part of the system of deceit and web of continuous lies for his whole career, he finds himself becoming paranoid about a former partner, Detective Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), who he believes is stitching him up to Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) in Internal Affairs.
Biggs is intent on getting to the bottom of the force’s wrongdoings and knows that Ludlow is part of the corruption culture that shapes his department. He crops up like a bad smell throughout the film, constantly reminding Ludlow that he is being watched.
Ludlow’s commanding officer, Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), orchestrates each scenario to meet targets. He has enough dirt on everyone in the force, so his continued rise to the top is purely built on fear of him exposing an officer in power. Wander’s admiration for Ludlow is clear, but he fears that Ludlow is in self-destruct mode, as his erratic behaviour could potentially push him over the edge.
Driven by alcohol and crushing paranoia, Ludlow decides to attack his former partner, Washington, to shake him up. He follows him to a shop but before he can rap his jaw with his belt buckle, two gang bangers burst into the convenience store and murder the clerk and Washington. A bullet from Ludlow’s return fire ends up lodging in Washington’s body, so three rounds of ammo are found in the post mortem, incriminating him and firmly placing him at the crime scene.
With cctv footage of Ludlow in the store, this predicament would mean the end to his career if the media were to get hold of it. But Wander tells Ludlow that this can go away as long as the culprits of the murders aren’t brought to justice. But this is when Ludlow’s so far absent conscience kicks in.
Ludlow scouts the streets of downtown LA to find answers from different gangs (here the casting once again proves top notch as hip-hop stars Common and The Game bring a realistic touch to LA’s gangland), leading him on a quest that turns up a multitude of shocking findings, including the identities of the two murderers. Undeterred that he is already branded a cop killer, he seeks out the gun-totting gang bangers to attempt to even the score.
The gritty realism of the situation is not only disturbing, but highlights how far allegiances have to be pushed before mental states finally crack. Reeves’ shows he is versatile with his adaptability to incredibly diverse predicaments throughout the intense narrative.
Whitaker’s portrayal of a deluded Captain on a serious power trip is incredible. The fear he strikes into every single person he comes into contact with, friend of foe, highlights a truly masterful performance.
Laurie’s persistent drive for the correct procedures and outcomes is the reassuring voice of reason in a film which is jammed packed with adrenaline-pumping action.